Last Updated on February 7, 2021 10:42 am
Kansas City Chiefs center Daniel Kilgore, a championship-winning alum of App State, is scheduled to make his second career Super Bowl appearance today.
After playing for the Mountaineers from 2006-10 (and recovering an end-zone fumble to score a touchdown in the 2007 FCS championship game), he's a 10-year NFL veteran who first reached the Super Bowl eight years ago as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. No longer on the COVID-19 reserve list, he has been cleared to play in Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bret Strelow of App State Athletics caught up with Kilgore recently to chat about the path that's led him to another Super Bowl.
Q: Having already played in a Super Bowl, what is the key to preparing for one?
A: “I try not to make moments bigger than what they really are. Obviously, it's the biggest stage, the biggest platform in the sport of football, but at the same time, you have to keep that level mind and don't make it bigger than what it really is. You're still playing with 11 guys on your side and they're putting out 11 guys on their side and there's still one football. It's just another game. Yeah, there's more people who are going to be watching, and there is a title on the line, but I think once you get too caught up into that, that's when you're going to lose your focus and look too far ahead about what you're going to do, win or lose.”
Q: Can you shed some light on how you've approached this season with joining the Chiefs in late August and embracing a different role than you've had in the past?
A: “Back in the summer, I was thinking about a lot of different things. We had just had our second daughter and I was enjoying being home. It was the longest I'd been home since before college, so it was nice to be able to spend what time I could with my family and friends. With COVID, with all the hassles and protocols that players and coaches are having to go through, I basically told my agent that it had to be the perfect situation.
“Well, the perfect situation came calling. To be able to play for Coach Reid, I didn't want to pass that up with the defending champions, so it was pretty hard to say no. And when I first got here, I knew what role I was taking on. I didn't necessarily need to take on that starting role with no offseason, coming into a team that had 17 returning starters from a Super Bowl team. For the last seven or eight years, I had been a starter, and I was OK with Year 10 as a backup who can fill in when I need to. I did get an opportunity to start a few games, and it's been great. Anything I can do to help the team win, I'm going to do it. Taking on that backup role has been good in that, physically, I feel better at this time of the year. Mentally, you still have the stress of wanting to perform, but the stress is a little bit different.
“It's been so great playing with Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the guys. It's been very rewarding because I've been on some losing teams, and football is fun when you win games.”
Q: Being on the inside, what are some of the things you see up close that make Mahomes special – things that fans at home can't see on TV?
A: “Not many quarterbacks in the National Football League are able to make protection calls or understand blitzes or coverages the way Patrick does. I've played with a fair share of talented quarterbacks in my career, and he's probably the total package to be able to maneuver the way he does, to be able to read and call out different blitzes or recognize Cover 0 and get the ball out, knowing where his hots are, the route combinations versus different coverages. You know, a lot of guys can do that, but not at the tempo of Patrick Mahomes. And a lot of guys are willing to take risks, and they're on the losing side of those risks. But with 15, he makes things happen when he does take those risks and is able to extend the pocket with his agility and his athleticism.
“So I would say from a quarterback perspective that he's probably the best I've ever played with, and rightfully so, with his arm strength, his ability to chuck the ball the way he does with his baseball background. And then the knowledge that he has. To come in as a rookie not knowing so much and being behind Alex Smith, a person I think very highly of, to becoming a starter, he's really taken on this leadership role. He's unbelievable day-in and day-out.”
Q: It's been 14 years since you scored a pretty memorable touchdown in the national championship game, recovering a fumble as a tight end. What are the memories that stand out from becoming a national champion at the college level with App State?
A: “The things that stand out are the guys really, like former teammates who were walk-ons but eventually became team captains, the guys who you trusted and had a lot of fun with, the respect that the players have for the coaches. You know, especially in that 2007 championship season, there was so much respect from both sides, from players to coaches and coaches to players.
“Obviously, the fans also stand out, the fan base. Being able to travel to those SoCon games, looking up and seeing the crowd that App travels with, there are so many good memories just in my time at App State. It's about the relationships that I've built with guys within that program and guys outside of the program within the community. You really cherish a lot of people and a lot of those moments.”
Q: Rewind 14 years, where you're contributing at tight end, and Nic Cardwell was a senior tight end on that same title team. If I saw you then and told you 14 years later that you'd be playing in the Super Bowl and Nic would be App State's offensive line coach, what would you have said?
A: “If you told me 14 years ago that I'd be going into the NFL, I would have laughed at you. Of course, I knew with Nic's tenacity and what a great human being he is that he was about to do something great. With the game of football, what a ride he's gotten on and what a great story he's got to be able to come home and coach at App.
“It wasn't until my senior year at App State that I kind of really started to take things as seriously as I needed and wanted to buckle down, and it was all because of our strength coach, Mike Kent, who still lives in the High Country. He told me that I had the opportunity to go on to play in the NFL, and I had never heard that before. I even had teammates telling me, ‘There's no way,' so to hear something like that 14 years ago, I would have laughed, but it's pretty awesome.”
Q: In what ways has your experience at App State contributed to your professional success and the growth you've enjoyed through the years?
A: “It makes me think of one word: grit. It's having that grit. Coach Moore, he was a great coach and a tough coach when he had to be. I can tell you now, doing those winter workouts at 5:30 in the morning, that's where you became a man. Just that grit of being able to push through after a two-and-a-half-hour practice and having to run ‘fifths' after practice and you're able to push your body farther than you expected you could. I think that grit and that tenacity from App State has helped me coming to the NFL and having a sense of not giving up, having that grit to come to work every day, being willing to get better and learn.
“You know, at App State, our offense was pretty simple. When you have Armanti Edwards, you throw the ball deep or you run right or run left. Things do change when you get to the NFL, so that was a challenge, but as far as the physicality, I think App State, that culture and blue-collar mentality and toughness definitely allowed me to have a long career and be able to go through adversity from different injuries or whatnot. I was able to handle that adversity much better because of my days at App State.”
Q: Why do you think you've stayed connected with App State the way that you have?
A: “Living just over the state line (in Tennessee), I've got so many great friendships with people at the university. My best friend, Dave Pastusic, he still lives in the High Country, so those are the biggest reasons, and there's obviously the program itself. You know, I do like to be around winners, and App State wins a lot of ballgames. I graduated from there, and I'm proud to be an alum of there. And when I retire, I look forward to being around even more.
“You look now, there are a lot more guys from App State in the league, and it's a prideful thing to see so many guys from App State be able to make the league and sustain a career, guys like Kendall Lamm and Sam Martin. Hopefully, the new guys coming into App State see that. I think that's something that motivates me to be around App State's program, to show these guys that you can make it and have a 10-year career in the NFL.”