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KNIGHTDALE — Physicians once blind-side blitzed the Denis family with brutal news: Their then 3-year-old son, Khalil, might never walk without a limp and would never play sports.
Mom TaMyra Denis did not need a medical degree to disagree.
“I had a son to play football,” she said during a signing ceremony when that same young man inked a Presbyterian College football scholarship. “The woman of God I am, the faithful believer, I told them not to come back with any negative report. Because I chose to believe the report of the Lord. And so I told them he would play football. He would not walk with a limp. So every time you hear in the stands hollering, ‘Go, Khalil. Go, Sonny,’ don’t wonder why. It’s because he was not supposed to be doing it. Not if it was up to the doctors.”
The rest is revisionist history, because the Blue Hose program signed the Knightdale High linebacker happiest when socking it to rival ball carriers — and to preconceived notions.
“I am talking about at age 5, I remember him going through drills and hitting other players. Hurting other players,” first-ever Wilders Grove youth football coach Will White said. “I had to remind him that’s your teammates. Khalil would just do it. Never afraid. He never backed down.”
Courage and even a rage in the face of adversity inspired Khalil Denis to rack up 286 tackles, 185 solos, 45 knockdowns behind the line of scrimmage, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two safeties and one interception during his Knight defensive stint.
“Khalil is part of the reason for the transformation of Knightdale High School football,” coach Anthony Timmons said. “He is a leader on and off the field. He pushed his teammates to match his strength in the weight room. He always set the tone for the defense with his hard-hitting style.”
The two-time, all-NAC 6 first-teamer expressed his appreciation at the moment he put pen to paper and solidified his continued career.
“It was a tough ride at times,” Khalil Denis said. “My freshman year had some ups, and it also had some downs. So I didn’t think I’d ever get this far. But I had good people around me that changed my ways.”
Maybe he just found the right track on which to train for success.
“I remember ... little boys in my house running around and tackling the furniture,” dad Gerald Denis said. “Tackling that blue couch we had. Hitting those pillows. We put him in soccer. That didn’t work. He still had too much energy.
“When he finally put those pads on, I told him, ‘You are not going to get in any more trouble. Hit them as hard as you can.’
“He asked me, ‘Are you sure? Because last time I did that, you told me —’ I said, ‘No, no. On the field, you can hit them as hard as you want. Nothing bad is going to happen.’
“We heard that first clap and we knew. Yeah. Everything else he did was football. This is his calling.”
Khalil Denis takes his 5-foot-11, 215-pound frame to the South Carolina campus at 4.6-second break-neck speed in the 40-yard dash. In his past he leaves a legacy of overcoming and a lasting impact.
“Khalil exemplifies all the great qualities we express at Knightdale High School: character, commitment and leadership,” Athletic Director Andrew Vaglio said. “We welcome him to always come back and talk to the future players to show them what it takes to reach this point.”