After years of battling a hard life, Kendale Truitt has found comfort at Weatherford College playing basketball for the Coyotes.
He grew up in perhaps the worst part of Philadelphia. Shootings, he said, were as common as waking up every day - and that was never a guarantee.
"There are a lot of killings there. They happen every day," said the soft-spoken Truitt. "I have a story to tell about how well I carry myself through tough situations. It strengthened me a lot."
But getting out of the rough neighborhood proved to be its own problem. He thought he was destined to play college football as a wide receiver/defensive back on a scholarship to Arizona Western College.
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Then, tragedy struck. His cousin and great friend Rahkeem Truitt was fatally shot back in the old Philadelphia neighborhood.
"I saw him the day before I left for school," he said, fighting back tears. "I still think of all the great times we had together, especially on the basketball court. He basically matured my basketball game."
The more he thought about Rhakeem, the more Kendale realized he loved basketball. After leading his team to the state semifinals and being named Player of the Year as a senior, a basketball scholarship would have been waiting. However, with school starting very soon, that now seemed almost an impossibility.
But a college in South Carolina had an unused scholarship they were anxious to offer Truitt. He said while it turned out to be a place to play - and he played a lot - something was still missing.
Because he registered late, he had to find off-campus housing. At one point, he was sleeping on the floor at a friend’s house.
"The dorm finally made an exception and let me in, but I had to pay out of pocket,” he said. "I'm appreciative to them for giving me a scholarship, but it was a tough situation and I needed to be somewhere else. My assistant coach helped me look for a few schools where I'd get better exposure and I'd be happier."
Which led him to Weatherford.
"I didn't even visit. I talked to coach (Mark) Osina a lot over the summer and I just knew this was a place I wanted to be," said Truitt. "They have a tremendous program, a great reputation, the team and school.
"I love it here, especially the dorms. I've got privacy. I'm not sleeping on the floor."
Osina said Truitt has fit in nicely with the Coyotes.
"Kendale has learned some very important lessons about life, and it shows," said Osina. "He plays with so much heart. He’ll be a really tough one to replace. I believe in Kendale and want nothing less than the best for him."
Osina said it's also been beneficial having a former standout football player on the team. Truitt gets to the free throw line a lot.
"He's got an aggressive nature on the court. I can see him being good in football," said Osina.
Truitt returned to his old neighborhood during the Christmas holidays. He said seeing family was nice, especially his grandmother, to whom he is very close.
"Every day we talk. She's a great lady," said Truitt. "The happiest I've ever seen her was when I went to college."
Truitt hasn't yet decided what is next after his lone season at Weatherford College, but he said he is trusting that something good awaits. He definitely wants to continue playing basketball at a four-year school.
"Basketball has also brought me closer to God. After going through so much and asking him to get me through tough times, he helped me in a big way," he said. "He's not going to let me down now."