Wyatt Middleton's Parents Downplayed Competition Among Four Athletic Children
Thursday, September 3, 2009
It could have been hard, growing up in the shadow of two accomplished older siblings: a sister who was a standout softball player and student, and a brother who was a talented cornerback and NFL draft pick. But Wyatt Middleton didn't mind; in fact, it helped him become what he is today: a junior at the Naval Academy, a starter at safety, and one of the Midshipmen's most reliable players.
"I've seen what it takes to get to a certain level," Middleton said. "I've watched my brother and sister. Nothing in life comes easy. Everything that you want, you have to work for."
Middleton's upbringing -- he is the third of four children in a close-knit family -- prepared him physically and mentally to make an instant and lasting impact on Navy's football team. As a freshman, he started 11 games at safety and finished second on the team in tackles with 88 (a record for freshmen). Last year, he started all 13 games and was fourth on the team with 80 tackles; he also forced three fumbles.
Middleton is considered to be Navy's surest tackler, a skill that he developed while playing linebacker in high school in Georgia. Middleton has always had great instincts and an ability to get to the football quickly, but he's worked hard at improving his coverage skills. He's also become more of a leader on the defense.
"He takes great pride in his dependability, whether that's in the classroom, in the brigade, in the hall or out here on the field between the white lines," said Buddy Green, Navy's defensive coordinator. "He takes tremendous pride in his accountability to this football team."
That doesn't surprise Middleton's older sister Kellie, who says, "one thing about having three other siblings is, we hold each other accountable." All four siblings -- Kellie, William, Wyatt and Dana -- are naturally athletic, gifted with speed, quickness and strength.
The four Middletons are extremely competitive, but not necessarily with each other. Growing up, they challenged each other in different sports, but "it was always love and fun and games," Wyatt said. He readily admits that Dana is the best athlete in the family, and that she beats him in games of H-O-R-S-E.
"That's one thing that our parents really fostered: Don't compare yourselves to each other," Kellie said. "We're all working on the same team. . . . You run faster if someone is chasing you. But we don't run faster to beat this person, we run faster to beat our own time."
Still, seeing each other succeed undoubtedly had an impact, particularly on the younger Middletons. Their father, Al, understood that: He has 13 siblings, many of whom hold advanced degrees (one sister received her PhD from Oxford). Al was a high school basketball star, went on to play for Gannon University and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
"I'd be in the backyard shooting hoops, and what I would see every day was my siblings with their books open, getting ready for school and studying," Al Middleton said. "I saw it how Wyatt probably saw it. I never thought of anything other than going to college and being successful."
Kellie, 25, was an all-conference center fielder at both Notre Dame and Georgia, and went on to play in the National Pro Fastpitch league. She retired from professional softball last summer, and is in her second year of medical school at the University of Pittsburgh.
William, 23, was a three-year starter at cornerback and a team captain at Furman. He was taken in the fifth round of the 2009 draft by the Atlanta Falcons and has said that if football doesn't pan out, he will go to medical school as well.
"I saw that they both went to great schools and good athletic programs, so I kind of wanted to do the same," said Wyatt, who is majoring in systems engineering and has expressed an interest in one day working for the FBI.
Wyatt learned about working hard from Kellie, who used to enlist her younger siblings to pitch to her or shag balls. "She used to be on the field every day," Wyatt said.
He learned about the importance of studying the game from William, who watched film on his own. The brothers, who are only two years apart, were teammates in Little League and high school football, and William was the one who really helped Wyatt make the transition from linebacker to defensive back.
"If you want to be good, you have to work for it," Middleton said. "You're blessed with certain talents and whatnot, but you have to perfect them and use those talents that you were given. That's kind of how I do things."