Chad Ricardo: Sydney, I’ve heard a lot about you brother; I’m thankful that we have this opportunity to sit down and share with each other a little bit. Before we get to the questions, I want to tell you a little bit about myself— covering sports is what I love to do, but assisting in the growth and development of our young men is my PASSION! If I do nothing else with my life, I want to be able to reach and teach as many teens with similar backgrounds as mine that they don’t have to adhere to the constraints of the boxes that society and cultural norms have placed them in. That’s why when I heard about you, I knew I wanted to speak with you. Wanted to pick your brain. I wanted to give you a chance to tell your story…not only because I want to know it, but also because there is another young man out there right now who needs to hear it.
That said, let’s start with the on-the-field stuff. You’re a Kicker for Friendly High School. That’s interesting in and of itself. You’ve been kicking for a couple of seasons now— I know though that you got your first real exposure to the game in a bit of a unique way. In your own words, talk to me about how you learned how to be a Kicker… through watching YouTube videos?!
Sydney DeSilva: It’s true that I didn’t start playing football until the tenth grade, before that I was into hockey and rowing crew. When I told my Dad that I wanted to play football he said “you’re going to be behind all the other kids in most positions because they have been practicing and playing since they were five and six years old”.
After bugging him for a while he agreed to let me play. I went out for the JV team at Gwynn Park High School in August 2014 and Coach Bill had a set team for the most part but my Mom always says, “if you don’t have a lane to move in, then create your own lane”.
I told my Dad that I wasn’t getting in the game because I wasn’t very good at most positions but I still wanted to play so he told me come home when practice was over that he had a video for me to watch. When I got home my Dad had me study a video of a Field Goal Kicker… like I had to take a test on the video so I did. The next day my Dad told me to let Coach Bill know that I knew how to kick field goals and extra points, so I went to practice and told Coach Bill that I knew how to kick and he had his first tryout for a kicker in ten years because no one else wanted that position. When I won the position over two others that tried out with me, I went 14/16 on extra points that year. I really have to thank Coach Bill Simpson for giving me a chance.
Chad Ricardo: That’s Dope, Bro! I didn’t even realize you were into hockey and crew as well. That says even more about you! Shout Out to Coach Simpson for giving you a chance— oft times, that’s all one really needs.
I also want to give you credit though, because you took advantage of the opportunity presented. You did not rest on your laurels. As we look back at those early days, undoubtedly your skill level has evolved tremendously. Who has helped you further your game since then?
Sydney DeSilva: When I started kicking I thought I was great because I ran on the field when the Coach called my name and the ball went through the uprights. After my JV season my Dad gave me an assignment to research local college kickers from the University of Maryland, Howard University and Georgetown University and find out who they worked out with. I got some good information but it wasn’t until my Junior year, as a Varsity kicker for McNamara HS that I saw Brian Johnson, who was at Gonzaga High School, and now at Virginia Tech working with Desi Cullen. My Dad contacted Coach Cullen and set up a meeting and that meeting changed my game. Coach Cullen and the DMV Kick Squad connected my dots and taught me the “how” and the “why” when it comes to kicking the perfect ball. Coach Cullen evaluated my game and put together a plan to move me step by step to the next level of my game. Through Coach Cullen I know that the small things are the big things.
Chad Ricardo: Brother… you’re giving me goose bumps right now! Whether you realize it or not, the words you’re saying are applicable for EVERY PART OF LIFE…not just kicking a football. Understanding the “how” and remembering your “why” will serve as driving forces for anything you ever want to accomplish! And as long as you have the patience to move “step-by-step”, eventually you’ll get to wherever you want to go!
I apologize for ‘preachin’ bro, but I’m telling you, these are the conversations I live for and it’s so refreshing to hear a young man of your age speak this way. So let’s go ahead and place all the fluff you may get in other interviews to the side and get down to the “Real”; you are a black kicker. That is close to as common as spotting a unicorn or a purple cow. Has the reality of your position as it pertains to the complexion of your skin served as a juxtaposition to your peers? What has it been like living in this reality?
Sydney DeSilva: Now, as a Senior at Friendly High School, my Varsity teammates know that having a kicker that can get the ball through the uprights can be a game changer, so most days and most games when I get to get on the field I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread to my teammates. At the Varsity level it hasn’t mattered what color I am at all, as long as I can put points on the board for the team and help the team win. My Head Coach Vaughn Smith and Special Teams Coach Eugene DuBose preach team effort and if we do our small part we will get the big picture.
Chad Ricardo: That’s what’s up. Need, followed by success, leading to accomplishment does have a way of canceling out other variables doesn’t it.
I’d like your take on this— as a culture, we place stereotypes and stipulations on each other, thereby defining what we should be and/or how we should act etc. We often force each other to live in a box and portray certain roles type-casted for our race. That said, did you receive backlash or ridicule for desiring to kick? As you stated, it’s all good now, but what was it like from a social perspective early on?
Sydney DeSilva: It’s true, in PG County or probably most black neighborhoods, being the field goal kicker doesn’t come up in locker room conversation with football players so when that became my only focus I got an ear full from some of my teammates in the beginning. I would hear “your just a field goal kicker” almost every day and it would get me so upset that I one day went home and told my Dad that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to finish the season. He told me two things, 1) If you start something you’re going to finish it and 2) out of fifty-two kids on the team, five may go to college for football and one will be the kicker. He told me never let someone get into my head and change who I am or what I want to do. After we started winning games and Coach Hayes, the Varsity Coach started calling me the secret weapon and the fans in the stands started calling me “The Toe”, my teammates, I guess got the hint that I got in every game and put points on the board in every game.
Chad Ricardo: Perseverance brother… and a will to keep going in the face of adversity. I’m telling you— you’re on your way. Also, That answer alone is a testament to how important having a Father in one’s life can be. That value can never be understated.
I’m going to mention a few names: Doug Williams. Venus and Serena Williams. To an extent, Tiger Woods. These individuals were not only athletes, they were trailblazers who opened doors and opened minds in regard to that which is possible for young people of African-American descent. Do you see yourself in the same light? And if so, why is this important to you?
Sydney DeSilva: I didn’t at first but through conversations with my Dad, he always says “your life is bigger than you and you should always try to help or inspire someone else through your life”. Now I do feel like if I stay focused and make it to the college level then I can reach back and let kids that look like me know that they too can get to college by kicking a football. I want to be able to inspire kids at the junior high level or before to get into kicking so by the time they get to high school they will have most of the mechanics of kicking. Currently more than ninety percent of all kickers at HBCUs are white or hispanic. I have nothing negative to say about them, but I do think that kids that look like me are passing up on a great position and a great opportunity to go to college and to play ball at the next level.
Chad Ricardo: You know what man… I’m going to be honest with you, I wasn’t really able to “put it all together” in my own life until I was in my late 20’s. Understanding my role and responsibility, not only in my family, but also to society. I can’t tell you how important it is that your father has instilled that in you as a teen, and more importantly, how impressive that you’re beginning to embrace it.
I’ll get you out of here on this; Right now, somewhere out there… a young boy or young girl who looks just like you or I is holding a tennis racket, lacrosse stick or even chess board. Playing that game is what they LOVE, but at the same time, they are also considering putting it down in order to pick up a piece of equipment more “socially acceptable”. If you could speak directly to that 8,9,10-year-old, what would you say?
Sydney DeSilva: I would tell them “You will always be a first class you and a second class someone else so be yourself”. Follow the sport you love because you will be better at it because your love and passion will elevate your game. Turn your passion into your personal victory.
Chad Ricardo: My man… keep on kickin’ brother… just keep on kickin’.
Sydney DeSilva, thank you very much. Stay on your path and always remember to mark the trail you blaze so that other’s can follow in your footsteps. Thank you.