Author Bryan Stevenson observed that, “You can't understand most of the important things from a distance...You have to get close.” SGG's "Football in Wisconsin" special series gets close to football through conversations with coaches, competitors, and others connected with the game in the Badger state. We aim to deepen our understandings of coaching -- and of football's impact on and off the field.
Kevin Claxton played football at the University of Wisconsin from 2007-2011, where he was a four-year letter winner as a standout linebacker on one of the top defensive units in the nation. During Kevin’s time at UW, the Badgers achieved back-to-back Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowl appearances. After his playing career, the Fort Lauderdale native entered the coaching profession, including stints at two of his alma maters, Boyd Anderson High School and the University of Wisconsin. In this SGG episode, we discuss:
1. The adults who impacted Kevin’s life: “Most of my positive influences have come through sports.”
2. Kevin’s uncle, an early influential coach in his life, “Every day he showed up. Never missed a day.” …and other coaches who devoted their time through coaching over the years.
3. “Where I’m from, playing sports is just part of life.”
4. Working through a challenging situation during his senior year of high school with the support of coaches and family.
5. Adjusting to college during his freshman year in Madison – including getting “lit up” in an early practice drill.
6. Learning the level of work and production at the college level.
7. Coaching the scout team – “sometimes you need to get their attention” – especially coming off a big win.
8. Following up with a player after a practice – wanting them to know that “it’s nothing personal when I yell.”
9. The relational bonds that form in position rooms: On video “you see guys at their highest of highs and at their lowest of lows…The guys are just really open and honest with each other. And that’s where those bonds are formed.”
10. Being vulnerable in front of and with peers.
11. “Culture shock” arriving at UW-Madison, where there are not as many African Americans as his home community (Boyd Anderson HS's student population includes 88% students of color -- much different from UW-Madison, which is predominantly white).
12. Having “open dialogue” with teammates about being a black man on the UW campus.
13. “We had countless examples of guys coming in and working with the young guys..and just being mentors off the field.”
14. “Dan Ott, my learning specialist was great. He was always an open door. He would always make time. He was always there to talk. Or just to listen.”
15. “Not having had white teachers in my life before (college), it was difficult. It was kind of like, ‘why do I have to go talk to this person?’ And Dan was just great, just very consistent. Even when I came in with a bad day, he was just the same person. That was something that was huge for me. And that’s something that I try to emulate in my own life. Just being consistent, regardless of whether I’m having a good day or a bad day.”
16. How he got into coaching.
17. Getting to know the people on your team – not just as athletes, but as full people.
18. The special bonds of the 2019 Wisconsin football team, and how the “hero, hardship, highlight” sharings during the pre-season deepened their shared understanding and trust. “Everyone got a chance to see that guys weren’t afraid to share some of their darkest moments and some of their highlights and just be themselves in front of everybody…I felt like that exercise was one of the most powerful things we did all season.”
19. Highlights from his time in Madison: the relationships and memories and “Being able to travel and do things that I would not have been able to experience if I had not played football.”
20. The toughest aspects of his Wisconsin experience: injuries – including one particularly difficult challenge his freshman year. “Being injured and not being close to family, that was tough.”
21. What got him through difficult injury times.
22. Why he will continue pursuing coaching: “I genuinely love the game.”
23. Being an example to his eight younger brothers. “There are people who look like us who were deprived of education opportunities…It is a privilege for us to be able to do this…Having this education can impact your family for generations.”
**Special thanks to SGG's Maria Dehnert for her excellent research into Kevin's journey!