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Mentor, Friend and Brother

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"Don't doubt the down and out," USC punter Kyle Negrete says it like a mantra.  He lives it too. 

Before transferring to Troy from the University of San Diego, Negrete was inspired by a painting of San Diego Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal, who played for Negrete's grandfather Jim Sweeney at Fresno State.  The artist was Joel Anderson, an autistic teenager with severe obsessive compulsive disorder.

"After I heard his story, I was so engaged in what he was doing," Negrete recalled meeting Anderson, who is now 20. 

Kyle-Joel-USD.JPGThe USD football player (pictured center right with Joel and former teammates) backed up his words and rallied his coaches and teammates to create "Best Buddies," a mentoring program for student-athletes to befriend people with autism.  Within a year, Negrete had motivated 85 student-athletes to volunteer and together they worked with the Autism Tree Foundation to plan events and build relationships.

Meanwhile, Kyle and Joel were on their way to what has become an unshakeable bond.

"He's one of my best friends," Negrete said proudly.  "The brotherhood and compassion we have for one another and just seeing him grow has been one of the most humbling experiences for me."

The feeling is mutual.  Joel's mom Sandi Anderson views Kyle as a member of the family.

"He has such a special heart and sees people as people to love not as disabilities," she said.

As an example, Sandi called Negrete after only a few visits to let him know that she and Joel were in his neighborhood.  Kyle dropped what he was doing, immediately went to meet them and hung out with Joel by himself for the afternoon, while Sandi went to a meeting.  She was so overcome by the unselfish gesture that she remembers crying throughout the entire meeting.

"It was unusual for Joel to have a peer respect him for who he was and for someone to choose to spend time with him," she said.

Negrete-CU-McG.jpg"I have always grown up with that kind of servant's heart mentality," Negrete humbly explained.  "They are just like you and I.  They have such a sincere love and passion for life that all of us need, but we lose in the distractions of life."

Negrete (photo by John McGillen) applies that perspective to his entire life from academics (business major) to community service (accompanied Matt Barkley on his trip to Nigeria) and athletics.  The redshirt junior won the starting punting job behind a strong fall camp and 12 of his 13 punts have not been returned.

While Kyle expresses himself on the football field, Joel continues to explore his creative side by taking junior college classes online in art and animation.  He even has his own website (JoelsVisionArts.com).

"Most kids with a disability like that have their niche, something they excel at," said Negrete.  "Art is his way."

When Kyle transferred to USC, Joel was worried that they'd lose touch.  "We are brothers.  We are forever," Negrete reassured him.

The two brothers talk three or four times a week and constantly meet at Disneyland for a day of fun.  Plus, Joel is now comfortable enough to sleep over at Kyle's house, which is a tremendous achievement for someone with severe OCD.

The Anderson's watch all the USC games at home together.  Joel is learning football and hopefully will watch Kyle play from inside the Coliseum for the first time this season.

Sandi Anderson summed it up: "They started as mentors, became friends and now they are brothers."

Here is an animation Joel created last year of Kyle punting...
 

1 Comment

I am so moved and inspired by your story. I just started a club at my school for Autism awareness and would really love to be able to talk to either Joel or Kyle. As a sister of an Autistic brother, I admire your work so much. If there is any way that I could contact Joel or Kyle, I would really love that opportunity. This story is incredible; thank you so much for everythink you have done and continue doing for Autism and awareness.

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