Father of ex-Iowa lineman Kyle Calloway, who was killed by a train, reflects on a life cut tragically short
Anything but a fuss. A lineman to the last, Kyle Calloway wanted the same thing he’s always wanted, the good blocker’s eternal creed: To stay out of spotlight, to let someone else take the credit, the glory and the stage.
Even when surrounded by loved ones, even when cradled by his favorite mountains. Even after he’s gone.
“It was funny, because three of his best friends from Iowa, I sent them letters and emails telling them, because they wanted to know what time to get here,” Ed Calloway, father of the deceased ex-Hawkeye lineman, told Landof10.com from his home in Arizona. “I said, ‘We’re going to do it privately instead up in the mountains, at Kyle’s favorite running place. Just us.’
“And all three of them wrote back and were like, ‘That’s wonderful.’ Andy Kuempel, his best friend, he said, ‘Kyle would’ve hated everyone being there, talking about him. That’s just not his personality.’ Dan Doering said the same thing: ‘That’s exactly what Kyle would’ve wanted.’”
Close family. Mountain air. Clouds soft enough to eat. A sky that’s blue enough to kiss. The Calloways planned to lay the remains of their son to rest this past Tuesday — 10 days after the former Iowa blocker, one of the quiet anchors of the 2010 Orange Bowl champions, was killed by a passing train at the age of 29 while jogging on and off railroad tracks in Vail, Ariz.
“So our assumption is, (with) the track he was running on, normally, if he had been running up by our house, the train would’ve been coming in front of him, not behind him,” Ed said. “And they were convinced — one of the Union Pacific guys told us that it’s a weird phenomenon: When you’re right in front of the train, you don’t hear the whistle. That’s why their workers, when they’re working on the track, they have a spotter with them.
“By no means are we blaming the train company. It’s nobody’s fault. Just a horrible accident.”
It was a Saturday morning, the ground soaked from recent rains. According to Tucson police, Calloway was running westbound when the train struck him from behind.
“We’re getting cards and calls from all over,” the elder Calloway said. “A lot of people pouring their heart and soul. He was a good kid. Everybody remembered the smile.
“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz, he called immediately. That’s the thing: Every one of his players are kind of family to him and (he) just broke up like it was one of his own kids.”
The privacy of any services was Kyle’s preference. The delay was a scheduling quirk, due in part to another Kyle request — namely, the donation of his brain for the purposes of studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease whose effects can be triggered by repeated head trauma.
“That was one of the things that he said that he wanted to do,” Ed Calloway said of his son, a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2008 and 2009 and a veteran of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2010) and Baltimore Ravens (2011). “But when he said it, I said, ‘It ain’t my problem, better tell your kids that.’
“There were some issues. And I can tell you Kyle never blamed Iowa for his issues. His doctor felt that he was showing symptoms of (CTE), which was unusual. Unlike a lot of kids, Kyle played (mostly) basketball as a young kid. He didn’t play football until his freshman year of high school. And so where a kid like (former Iowa teammate) Tyler Sash started playing as a little kid, he had lots of years of getting hit and hit and the (head) trauma, where Kyle didn’t.”
Last September, Sash, a safety who holds the Iowa career record for interception return yards (392), was found dead at his home at the age of 27. An autopsy report indicated the ex-Hawkeyes and NFL defensive back overdosed on pain-killing drugs methadone and hydrocone. In January, the family released the results of tests that showed Sash was battling Stage 2 CTE at the time of his passing.
“Kyle, he had some medical issues that we think that could be (tied to CTE), but we’ll see,” Ed Calloway said. “We’ll know more in about six months.
“I think his friends, they’re all talking about it. They’re all football players, so I think they (sat) around and said, ‘Hey, if I die, check my brain.’”
If anything, Ed had worried more, long-term, about his son’s knees. The elder Calloway said Kyle had been hit by a car in the sixth grade, an accident that affected the growth plate in one leg throughout puberty. The Bills listed Calloway as 6-foot-7, 315 pounds as a rookie, but “if he didn’t have the accident,” Ed noted, “he would have been 6-9 or 6-10.
“He said, ‘My kids won’t play football.’ Because your body, as an offensive lineman, it takes a beating. He’s got a finger that’s crooked. He could’ve got it fixed when he was at Iowa and he just worked through it, didn’t care. And his knees (were) kind of messed up, but his knees were messed up because when he was a kid he got hit by a car, so one leg was shorter than the other.”
And yet he was at his happiest pounding those legs up hill after hill, taking up running extensively for exercise and pleasure after his playing chapter closed, dropping his weight from 300-ish pounds to roughly 240.
Calloway’s father said Kyle worked with Enterprise Rent-A-Car after getting out of football, and more recently, as a manager at a local GNC store.
“He said, ‘Dad, all the things they sell, I’ve been using all my life,’” Ed recalled. “He said it was like a no-brainer for him.”
Another no-brainer: Keeping close to family, especially his niece, Ed and Nancy Calloway’s first grandchild, Kamila, not quite 2 years old.
The two immediately hit it off, the tiny newborn and her giant uncle — so much so that Ed said Kyle’s football savings will be rolled into a college fund for Kamila, the infant in whom he saw much of his younger self.
“I think it’s because she’s big,” Ed chuckled. “Not heavy-wise, but tall. She’s got these big wrists. (Kyle) goes, ‘She’s just like me.’
“He always said she was going to be a tennis player. He said, ‘Oh, it’s a girl — with those big, long arms, she’s going to be a tennis player.’ He said she was going to go to Stanford and be a tennis player. So he left her enough money that she’ll be able to go to Stanford.”
Enough to climb her own mountains. Enough to chase her own dreams, to kiss her own bright blue skies.
“To be honest, that’s the only way we can make it through this, (is) for her,” Ed said. “At 14 months (old), life’s just fine. Everything’s new and wonderful. And whenever we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ve got her.”
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler