Editor's Note: _This is the first in a series of stories highlighting causes important to Falcons players, which will be featured on footwear during Sunday's contest against Tampa Bay, this year's annual "My Cause, My Cleats" contest. A story Chris Lindstrom's work with the Best Buddies organization ran Thursday, with Kyle Pitts on Friday and Grady Jarrett on Saturday:
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It was the early days of the season when the reality of being the No. 4 overall draft pick truly set in for Kyle Pitts. He was preparing for his rookie season with Atlanta, and as he walked around a mall in the city he caught a glimpse of something that made an impact on him. Hanging up inside a sports apparel store was his Falcons jersey.
"I was like, this is real," Pitts said then. "It was kind of shocking to have my actual jersey in the store and people buying it."
That moment came full circle months later as Pitts was choosing which organization he would wear on his cleats for the 'My Cause My Cleats' game this Sunday. He thought back to when he was a kid. Most days after school ended, a young Pitts would go to his local Boys and Girls Club just outside of Philadelphia.
At the time, Pitts was just a kid, simply gazing at players' jerseys in his favorite stores. Years later, he would be playing for kids who now look up to him.
On Sunday, Pitts will wear cleats supporting and representing the Boys and Girls Club.
"It means a lot because I was also that young kid that looked up to other people who had their jersey in a store," Pitts said. "I wanted to put it on and emulate their game. To know that the roles are flipped it's nice in a sense knowing that someone looks up to you and you uphold certain standards and they want to be like you one day."
So, what does Pitts want to be known for? He has a list.
"A great leader, person, both on and off the field," he said. "Someone that contributes to their community."
A part of his local Boys and Girls Club growing up, Pitts said some of his fondest childhood memories were created there. He met different kids from different schools with different backgrounds. He remembers "Ms. Gary" who always harped on him to finish his homework before he got a snack or played.
The people Pitts met as a young boy just outside of Philadelphia are still in his life, and that means a lot to him.
"I still have some of those same friends today," Pitts said. "Those are your childhood friends that you eventually invite to your wedding and all of (those) important type of things."
Pitts was expected to burst on the scene in 2021 for the Falcons. And while not every game's production has been exactly what fantasy owners want it to be, Pitts is still having a year that will likely surpass anything a rookie tight end has seen in this league.
So far in 2021, Pitts has 661 total receiving yards on 45 catches. He had back-to-back games in which he surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark. He best game came against Miami in Week 7 when he accumulated 163 yards on seven catches.
However, over the course of the last five games since, Pitts has had 14 targets for a total of 190 yards. Head coach Arthur Smith said the difference in statistics is not something he is worried about when it comes to Pitts. He has a long career ahead of him, and one stretch of games isn't going to dictate a career.
"Kyle's a rookie, week to week (there's) a lot of attention on him," Smith said. "He'll make his plays but you can't live in the week-to-week narratives. I know they already wanted to get his bust ready after Miami… I'm sure somebody's ready to get his Hall of Fame speech ready, but it's a long career, a long season."
"We've got six big games left for us. (We're) very, very pleased with Kyle. I wouldn't get overly concerned."
And the next one is this Sunday as the Falcons host Tampa Bay at home for the 'My Cause My Cleats' game. For Pitts, he said he will always be focused on the game at hand, but there is an added sweetness to be in the position to represent the organization that meant so much to him as he grew into the man he is today.
It's an organization that, he said, brings young kids together. Now in the professional league, he's hoping to be a role model to them, hoping they'll look at his jersey in the window of a store with the same reverence he did for the players he looked up to growing up.
"Every game (you're) playing for something different but you always keep the main things the main thing," Pitts said, "but having something extra on the side, that kind of motivates you more."