2-sport Arlington athlete rises to the top in football and baseball

Tiger quarterback Tate Kolwyck rolls out. Photo by Kevin Lewter.
Tiger quarterback Tate Kolwyck rolls out. Photo by Kevin Lewter.

With a passion for roller coasters, Tate Kolwyck has often turned the football field into his own theme park, complete with thrills, spills and chills.

It has given Arlington head football coach Adam Sykes fits. Tate’s parents, Johnny and Julie Kolwyck, feel Sykes’ pain.

A senior who quarterbacked Arlington since he was a freshman, Kolwyck has the ability of taking a broken play and turning it into high-flying yardage, leaving some breathless.

“In football my greatest strength is making stuff up when a broken play happens,” he said. “I lived for being rushed and being able to be flushed out of the pocket. I felt like that was when I was the greatest at football – when the play was breaking down and the secondary did not know what was going on or just crazy stuff was going on all over the field. Coach Sykes used to hate it so much.”

Sykes admits there were times he was nervous watching Kolwyck scramble.

“There was a reason we practiced scramble drill every Wednesday in practice,” Sykes said. “I have learned over the years that kids who are scrambling quarterbacks usually get it naturally, and you never want to take away a player’s natural instincts, but it definitely makes a coach nervous when they start to improvise during a play.

“I’ve tried to coach our quarterbacks to know when the situation is right for a scramble and when it isn’t. Tate has the natural ability to face pressure and escape a lot of times. Once he is out of the pocket, you just hold your breath and hope that he doesn’t try to make impossible throws. He made a few of those bad decisions at times during his career, but the passes completed on the run far outnumbered the interceptions.”

During his senior season, Kolwyck completed 155 of 256 passes for 2,837 yards, 33 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He rushed for 251 yards on 69 carries and scored four touchdowns.

It was 8 a.m. the second day of preseason workouts in 2014 when then Arlington head coach Chris Wiley summoned Kolwyck, a freshman, to his office. Varsity workouts began earlier than freshmen practice. Kolwyck wondered why he was asked to meet with Wiley.

Then the coach dropped a bombshell: Kolwyck was going to have airtime.

Wiley said Kolwyck would be the starting varsity quarterback if he worked for it. Hunter Sheffield had graduated, and projected quarterbacks Jonathan Bowlan and Franklin Hefflinger had transferred.

“That’s crazy,” said Kolwyck, who called his parents. “They were scared out of their mind. I remember them freaking out, ‘We don’t know if you are going to be able to handle hits from 18-year-olds who are about to go to college.’ I was really nervous coming in, timid just like any other freshman would be, put in that situation.”

Kolwyck had caught the eye of Arlington coaches during 7-on-7 drills and in preseason scrimmages.

“Tate obviously was blessed with a lot of God-given ability, but his intangibles were the most important aspect,” Sykes said. “He was a playmaker, always positive, made his teammates better. He brought consistency, leadership, excitement and belief in him by his teammates that they could win.”

Leadership by example is Kolwyck’s style.

“I have learned what kind of person I am,” he said. “I have learned how to judge myself. I used to not want to think, ‘You are bad at this or you are good at this.’ I have learned I need to step up as a leader and see what I could do for my teammates.

“You don’t have to be up in somebody’s face all the time. You can be like, ‘Hey guys, watch what I do on and off the field, just follow my lead.’ That is what I came in freshman year. I wasn’t a talker. Any year, I haven’t been a talker, yelling at people. I try to make everybody around me better as I can.”

Starting as a freshman quarterback became a life turning point, Kolwyck said. “Either I manned up and did it, or I would be hit and I would not play football any more.”

It was a rough start.

“My teammates really picked me up. My stat numbers were not that great. I was like maybe I’m too small for this or not fast enough. I have to believe in myself if I want to win and do good for this team. Everything came through God’s plan.”

Kolwyck played his first game against Murfreesboro Oakland, a 35-3 loss.

“I remember everybody talking about how good they were. They had all these UT-Knox recruits. Just me stepping out on the field was daring enough.”

It helped that he had strong support from peers, such as upperclassmen football player Hayden Edwards, who took the aspiring freshman under his wing.

Edwards, who was wanting to be starting quarterback himself, said, “He was obviously already bigger than me and already showing so much talent and will to learn, so I knew he would eventually be in high school and take over the program. I knew it would be a crime if anyone allowed me to play over him. He came in and showed he was the man for the job.”

Kolwyck said one of the best experiences of football was the “brotherhood” of 80 players.

“To be a part of their last four years and get really close with all of them meant the world to me,” he said. “Those are friendships (experiences) you are not going to be able to take back.”

By the time Kolwyck’s prep football career ended, he had passed for a school-record 10,213 yards, only the third player in Tennessee to pass for more than 10,000-career yards. He completed 686 of 1,211 passes for 119 touchdowns and threw 39 interceptions. He had 222 rushes for 859 yards and 13 touchdowns and a total offense of 11,027 yards and 132 touchdowns.

He was named Region 7-6A Co-Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 as well as all-region, and he was nominated all-state and named a finalist for The Commercial Appeal Shelby-Metro Offensive Player of the Year. He was selected to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl All-Star game.

He started young: He was in the third or fourth grade when he began playing football for the Cordova Wolves in the Shelby Youth Sports league. He started out as a free safety and became a quarterback in the sixth grade.

And then there’s baseball

Despite his football successes and how much he relishes the game, baseball remains his passion.

In addition to being a powerful force on the football field, Kolwyck also was a four-year starter for the Tigers’ baseball team. He made all-state last season at shortstop and played for a state championship in 2016, losing 9-8 to Murfreesboro Siegel in the title game, capping “an amazing season.”

When a sophomore, he committed to play baseball at Vanderbilt.

Sykes said, “Not many people can say they were a four-year starter in two sports in a 6-A school. He has strengths of integrity, leadership. He is a competitor, coachable, a team player and unselfish.”

Edwards said Kolwyck works hard for his successes. “You can find him in the cage or on the field of some kind getting better. Every day is not an exaggeration. If I couldn’t get hold of him, I knew where to go. … I have no doubt that Vanderbilt is going to be champions multiple times in the next four years, and I know Tate is going to excel to heights that no one could imagine.”

After a strong game against Cordova in 2017, Cordova head coach Anthony Jones, now an assistant at the University of Memphis, said that Kolwyck should rethink his commitment to play college baseball and play football instead.

Kolwyck said, “I got hyped up this year. A bunch of people were talking to me asking me if I was going to play in college, and honestly it made me feel really good about myself. I stayed humble but having those that think you are good at football made me feel proud.”

But he knows that his true love is baseball and has been since he was a child, encouraged by his parents.

“I love football, but baseball is my everything,” Kolwyck said.

Picking it up quickly, he developed a passion even as a child. His father would take him to the batting cage, and they would also field.

Tate said, “He has been there for me since Day One. My dad hitting with me, doing all this. My mom has always been there for support. My mom making sure that I have everything, my glove. She was the off-the-field person I could come to. She would help me through it, especially with God. She led the way, which is really cool.”

Mentors and memories

Kolwyck said, “Having coaches like Coach (Josh) McElroy and Coach Sykes, they influenced me heavily. They gave me the ball and it was like, ‘Do what you do.’ They put confidence in me. It felt good.”

There were some heart-pounding football moments along the way: In 2014 there was Kolwyck’s Hail Mary pass that defeated Houston 34-32 in the playoffs. Then there was the 2015 game when Arlington upset Whitehaven 28-25 as Kolwyck completed 20 of 32 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown and scored a rushing TD.

“I have a lot of football memories,” Kolwyck said. “The greatest one was probably that night we beat Whitehaven. I remember the bus ride back and seeing our student section. They came all the way back to Arlington and congratulated us. That was one of the greatest nights of my life.”

He said his most fun game was against Cordova in 2017. At one point the Tigers trailed 56-27 before a rally got them to within 65-63 before Cordova won 72-63. Kolwyck called it his best game, as he passed for 446 yards, five touchdowns and completed 18 of 32 passes.

“They kept pounding and all of sudden we get this fire in us,” Kolwyck said. “They wouldn’t stop us either.”

Path to his future

When Kolwyck was in the seventh or eighth grade, his team played up against older teams. He began to realize his talents and that baseball could be his path.

“I really thought hard about it. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do, so I am going to put everything I have into it.’ I was like, ‘This is the thing for me.’ It depends upon education mostly. This is what I can use to get my education.”

Growing up, Vanderbilt was his favorite baseball team and the Florida Gators his favorite football team. When he was offered a scholarship to Vanderbilt, he said it was a dream come true. Kolwyck committed the night he led the Tigers to the victory over Whitehaven.

“Committing to Vanderbilt and signing showed that all my hard work meant something,” he said. “That a college coach likes my ability and how I am on and off the field and that he (Tim Corbin) wanted me to play for him, that meant the world to me. Tim Corbin is really a godly man. He is awesome.”

This baseball season

Kolwyck (5-11, 190) enters the 2018 season with a chip on his shoulder.

“I am not the biggest in the room or most talked about baseball-wise in the nation, so I have a chip on my shoulder to prove myself, especially going to Vanderbilt. There are some great players at Vanderbilt and in my class. That is my motivation.

“I want to come in and be an impact. I want to give Tim Corbin and all the team the best that I have got and make sure the team can be good with me.”

Kolwyck said he expects to do the same for Arlington head baseball coach Chris Ring.

He has a “why-not?” goal to hit 20 home runs this season. He wants to be clutch at shortstop.

“You have to be that guy where everybody looks to you,” Kolwyck said. “You have got to want the ball in every clutch situation. You can’t be scared. You want that at-bat in the bottom of the ninth and down by one with runners on base.”

Last season, Kolwyck batted in the .350 to .400 range. In his first game last year, he hit a home run against New Hope, Miss., in his second at-bat. He finished the 2017 season with seven homers.

He loves defense.

“I have been defensive-minded all my life,” Kolwyck said. “The creativity that comes with it is like an artist painting. Recently I have gotten really good at hitting and I love hitting, so I feel like that is one of my greatest strengths.”

Arlington senior Hunter Goodman, a catcher on the baseball team and a punter and wide receiver on the football team, commented on Kolwyck’s versatility. “In baseball, he has five tools. He can do anything. He is good at short, fields the ball, has power and contact and is an all-around good player. We expect big things from him this year.”

Edwards, who was himself on the Southern States Athletic Conference all-freshman team in 2017 and was 11-0 in 2015 at Arlington before losing the state championship game, said, “Baseball with Tate was a wonder. He is honestly the best baseball player I have ever seen. He plays the same with such grace, passion and love, that if anyone deserves to be at Vandy, then hopefully the MLB, it’s him.”

More than an athlete

Kolwyck also has a rich life off the sports fields, including academic successes. An honor roll student, Kolwyck has a 4.2 unweighted GPA and 4.0 weighted.

“I value my grades,” Kolwyck said. “I try really hard in the classroom.”

He is undecided about a college major but may study human organization and development in the business field. He picked up a psychology class to fill out his schedule this year and learned that he loves the study of the brain and emotions and may be looking into that field in college. The last B he made was in physics last year.

Kolwyck, 18, and his girlfriend of three years, Barklee Loflin, also were named 2017-18 Mr. and Miss Arlington High School.

Kolwyck has given time to outreach community projects such as Student Government Association-sponsored cheering at the St. Jude Marathon and the baseball team’s visit to St. Jude two years ago to hang out with patients. Kolwyck has been on a mission trip to Kentucky and has done mission projects in Memphis.

Faith matters most

Wearing an “I Am Second” bracelet that reflects his faith in Christ, Kolwyck said he tries to be a friend to all.

“I try to be the best to everybody that I can, no matter what day I am having,” he said. “I want to make sure that everybody has good memories of me and they see me as somebody they want to follow maybe in their future to show them the ways. I think God has given me the talents to inspire others, to follow His way and use me to push out the Word (the Bible), which I am going to try my hardest.”

One of Kolwyck’s goals is to grow “with God and keep my faith up in college. I want to trust what God has in store for me. I have a Bible verse that Tim Tebow posted on his Instagram and that my mom gave me. It fits my life right now, Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”

Kolwyck was baptized at Leawood East Baptist Church when he was 7.

His legacy at AHS

A practical joker, Kolwyck said he likes having fun with everybody, and he wants to leave Arlington with a legacy.

“I want them to be like, ‘This is the guy, we were best friends. We had so many great memories, I can’t say anything bad about him. He was a great friend to me. That is really what I want to leave here.”

BILL SORRELL is a freelance writer for The Bartlett Express and other Journal West 10 Media LLC publications. Contact him at billsorrell@att.net.