Exit interview: Kyle Negrete

Despite earning his scholarship as a punter, former walk-on Kyle Negrete wasn't afraid to get physical on the field. Joe Andras/WeAreSC.com

In his time on campus, perhaps no other player personified the Trojan ideal more than punter Kyle Negrete.

The grandson of former Fresno State coaching legend Jim Sweeney, Negrete transferred to USC as a walk-on in 2010 from the University of San Diego, where, in addition to his duties on special teams, he lined up at linebacker.

After spending his initial season as a Trojan redshirting on the scout team as a part-time fullback, the Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West product would go on to win the starting punting job in 2011 before being awarded a scholarship prior to the 2012 season. Averaging 42.7 yards per punt as a senior, he established himself as one of the team’s most reliable performers.

Off the field, Negrete made an even bigger impact in a charitable sense, all while achieving academic success inside the classroom, earning All-Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention honors in both 2011 and 2012.

Negrete, who was awarded the John Wayne Scholarship for post-graduate work prior to this past season, took time out recently to look back on his career, while also giving us a glimpse into his future.

WeAreSC: You graduated from USC this past December. What did you receive your degree in and just how big is that accomplishment for you?

Negrete: I got my degree in Business Administration, and I had a concentration in Finance and Entrepreneurship. I’ve never taken school for granted, but I never really understood the accomplishment of graduating college, and graduating from a prestigious university like the University of Southern California until now. And on top of that, being in the business school and competing against some of the top students and excelling in all of my classes -- I think that was most exciting for me. Right now, currently I’m studying for my real estate, insurance and securities licenses. I didn’t want to start grad school yet because the MBA programs only start in the fall, and so I’m going to end up getting my MBA somewhere down the road. I worked for Merrill Lynch this last summer and that was a great experience.

WeAreSC: You’ve also been training quite a bit lately. What have you been up to on that side of things with pro day coming up in late March?

Negrete: I’m training down in San Diego with Darren Bennett, who in my eyes could be a Hall of Fame punter. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame and was the Australian rules football punter who actually brought over that Australian end-over-end kick that I use. It worked really well in my two years of not having a touchback, and I learned that from him. I’ve been training with a bunch of NFL free agents, which is nice because some of the guys that I’ve been training with have been in training camps, and they’ve competed for spots, and they’ve played in pre-season games. Coming up, I’ve got a big specialist combine in Florida for four days which will include all of the free agents and draftable punters and kickers around the country.

WeAreSC: You come from a big football family going back to your grandfather, longtime Fresno State head coach Jim Sweeney, who just passed away earlier this winter. What kind of influence did he have on you, both on the field and off?

Negrete: He was a man of influence, and that is what I try to model my life around -- to be a person of influence to whomever I encounter. My grandfather was a great motivator, and hearing the stories of past players and past coaches, guys of the likes of Trent Dilfer, Lorenzo Neal and all of these great NFL players, and hearing about the influence that he had on them -- it was very tough love. He demanded excellence, but he was a truth teller. He told you the way it was, and if you didn’t like it, then you had to deal with it and you had to fix it. And if you were great, he would tell you that you were great. And that’s the way it was with all of his grandsons growing up. I was born into a football family. My dad was a captain for him, ended up marrying his daughter. My uncle, Kevin, still has NCAA records. It was great, and my grandfather was a great man, a great husband, a great grandfather, and if I can be a man of influence the way that he was, I’m doing something right.

WeAreSC: You’ve spent a lot of your free time helping those in need -- from your visits to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, to your missionary work in Haiti and Nigeria. Just how important is that aspect of your life, and is that something that you hope to continue?

Negrete: Yes, it goes along with my faith and my belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and understanding that we are called to be his hands and feet. That is the most important thing in my entire life. I have a saying that I live by, "When you’re good to other people, you’re best to yourself." And there is nothing more fulfilling to me than to see the faces, to see the smiles, to look into an orphan’s eyes and to see the love and the hope that they can bring. And that is something that I’ll continue to carry on. That’s where I spend 80 percent of my time. When I’m not in football, or studying or with my family, that’s where my heart is.

WeAreSC: Looking back on your career at USC, what was your top on-field moment?

Negrete: It would probably have to be the fake punt against Washington. I feel like that kind of put the Kyle Negrete brand on the map. That’s probably what I’ll be remembered for. Obviously, being a steward for the university and a great spokesperson for the university around the community -- that’s what I really want to be recognized for. That fake punt, Trojan fans still come up to me and say that’s their favorite play in the last decade.

WeAreSC: What will you miss most about being a student-athlete at USC?

Negrete: Being a student-athlete is what I think embodies the Trojan Family and the Trojan spirit. I think that President [Max] Nikias, with the support of Pat Haden and all of the administrative staff, and all of the coaches -- Coach [John] Baxter, especially, with AGP (academic game plan) -- and how you come here to get your degree, it’s extremely important and I’m extremely proud to be a graduate of USC. I worked my butt off in the classroom, and I created some great relationships with professors that I’ll go back and have lunch or dinner with now. It’s really special to create those relationships and to have the professors and administrative staff pouring everything into you, bending over backwards to help you succeed in every way. Everyone buying into making us well-rounded men. And at first, obviously, people come to USC to play football, but then they realize that they are earning a degree from one of the top universities in the country, and there’s a lot to be said about that. And so as much time as you invest in USC, I felt that I got everything that I could out of USC, and it’s a credit to the people that I was surrounded with – the students, my fellow colleagues and the professors.

WeAreSC: What was your favorite class that you took at USC?

Negrete: My favorite class would have to be my entrepreneurship class with Tommy Knapp. I think of him as a father figure, a best friend. I still talk to him on a weekly basis. He’s a great man; a very successful businessman. And it’s really helped out a lot because we write business plans and he’s really creative in helping students think outside the box. We had top entrepreneurs inside and outside of L.A. come and speak to us. It was an amazing class.

WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?

Negrete: Thank you. Thank you for the support. Thank you for the love. Thank you for believing in me. I had so much support on Twitter and Facebook – and just the way that the Trojan family reaches out, and supporting my non-profits, I can’t say thank you enough. People don’t understand what it means to be a part of the Trojan family, and until you’re a part of it, you either hate it or love it. And I love the Trojans – I’m so proud to be a Trojan. I thank Coach Kiffin for believing in me and giving me a scholarship in times when they didn’t really have to. I can’t say thank you enough.