BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech sophomore safety Kyshoen Jarrett has earned the team’s Hammer Award in both games this season for the big hits he has delivered. He’s been playing with a “heavy shoulder,” as the saying goes.
This should come as no surprise to those who saw him play at East Stroudsburg High in Pennsylvania. After all, Jarrett showed his toughness by playing with a broken wrist and a broken hand in consecutive seasons.
But until this week, few people — not his coaches, and not his teammates — were aware that Jarrett has had to shoulder more than the average college football player.
Jarrett’s 21-year-old brother, Daishawn, is a triplegic with cerebral palsy. He’s legally blind, struggles cognitively and uses a wheelchair. Growing up in a single-parent household with a mother who worked full time as a teacher, it was up to Kyshoen and his two other older brothers to help care for him.
“I look at him and he can’t do the same things that I do,” Jarrett said earlier this week. “Him not being able to run or walk, and me having a fracture in my wrist or my hand, it doesn’t really slow me down. I just keep on fighting, keep going forward.
“It motivates me to go out there and practice hard because you never know. That’s just how it is sometimes.”
Eventually, responsibility for Daishawn came down to just Kyshoen and his mother, Vinise Capers. Daishawn had become too heavy for Capers to carry and occasionally, because of his condition, resisted her help.
So while he blossomed on the football field in high school, Kyshoen was also waking up an hour earlier than usual once his brothers left the house. He would wash and dress Daishawn, feed him and physically put him in the wheelchair. He would then take Daishawn to the school bus stop every morning.
“I think it made him tenacious. I think it made him resilient — resilient to a level I couldn’t have imagined,” Capers said in a telephone interview this week. “He watched me not give up and give in to stereotypes and statistics. Being a single mother of four sons, African-American sons, reality is reality. Without a father in the home, that can be dangerous for them.
“But I think having a brother who was limited and watching him smile anyways, watching me care for him – and he got to see his older two brothers caring for him — it was just part of the fabric of our family. He’d already been a part of a team before he started playing football.”
Jarrett’s college football career will come full circle Saturday when No. 13 Virginia Tech (2-0) travels to Pittsburgh (0-2) for its first road game of the season. He originally committed to the Panthers during the summer of 2010, but reconsidered when Pittsburgh fired then-coach Dave Wannstedt.
His high school coaches had a good relationship with Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and contacted him soon after Jarrett de-committed. It also helped that Jarrett had developed a relationship with defensive backs coach Torrian Gray during his original recruiting process, and he became a late addition to Virginia Tech’s 2011 recruiting class.
The 5-foot-11, 195 pound Jarrett has been better than expected through two games, even though he is playing a new position after moving from cornerback this past spring. He graded out higher than any Virginia Tech defensive player when the Hokies beat Austin Peay last weekend and is fourth on the team with 15 tackles.
“I guess if the physicality isn’t a question no more, then that’s good,” said Jarrett, who could take on a larger role at Pittsburgh because safety Detrick Bonner hasn’t practiced all week due to a leg injury. “But . . . I’m just doing my job.”
Daishawn and Capers, who moved to Raleigh, N.C., for better care and to be closer to Kyshoen, watched Jarrett from the stands when Virginia Tech opened the season with a win over Georgia Tech. Capers said Daishawn loves the energy of the crowd and is aware of his brother’s exploits even though he can’t watch them. He was so excited to get to Blacksburg that he spent the days leading up to the trip telling Capers, “Ma, Ky, car, game.”
But caring for Daishawn remains a daily battle, especially now that Capers is pursuing a master’s degree and handles all the responsibilities on her own. At one point she considered institutionalizing Daishawn, but Kyshoen told her: “Don’t you dare. Our family would never be the same.”
“He encouraged me in spite of the burden. He wouldn’t even let it seem like a burden,” Capers said.
When Foster was told of Jarrett’s upbringing this week — Jarrett also had yet to tell his teammates about his brother, fearing they would judge the situation as a burden on him — it helped him better understand why Jarrett has become the most encouraging development on a defense that was already expected to be one of the country’s best units.
He realized a heavy shoulder is only the beginning of this story.
“Things don’t rattle him much, and even if Coach Gray is on him or I’m on him, he can sluff that off a little bit because he’s probably dealt with something a lot tougher than that when it’s all said and done,” Foster said. “That makes me feel even better about the kid, because he’s a great young man.”