BRADENTON, Fla. — If Khalil Wilcox received a dime for every time he was asked this question, he probably wouldn’t need to play any sport in order to pay for college or secure a living for himself and his family.
The question? What’s your favorite sport — football or baseball?
“Man, I get asked this question so many times, I can’t even count,” Wilcox said with a chuckle.
Then he started to explain his choice.
“If I had to choose one, it would be baseball,” he said. “For one, you can play it longer, and it’s good to get paid to do something I like for a long time.”
Here’s the caveat to Wilcox’s answer, though — and he admits as much: As the Newton High rising senior gives his baseball-over-football rationale, he’s doing it in the cozy confines of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring camp facility in Bradenton, Florida, dubbed “Pirate City.”
He’s declaring his love for baseball while being one of roughly 75 to 80 top high school baseball prospects from across the nation spending the week at a prospect development camp while working with former minor and Major League players and coaches.
Check with him in a couple of weeks when he’s back on the football field as a strong safety for the Newton Rams’ football team, and the answer may be different.
“Once I get into either of the sports, it’s so much fun,” he said. “I have fun with all my guys in either sport and I really immerse myself in it. So when I get to football, I’ll probably be feeling the same way about it that I feel now with baseball.”
On the football field, Wilcox is considered one of the top defensive backs in the county. Though he shared time in a talented Newton secondary in 2017, with the likes of incoming Navy freshman Jaison Taylor, speedster Elija Godwin and interceptions leader Rod Kirkland, the 6-foot-1, 202 pounder still managed 29 total tackles and was second on the team in interceptions with two.
He expects to anchor the defensive backfield in 2018 and has gotten strong interest recently from the likes of South Florida, Stetson, Georgia Tech, Mercer and The Citadel.
Impressive, indeed. But get him on the baseball diamond Wilcox’s stock goes up considerably.
As an outfielder, Wilcox batted .291 with an on-base percentage of .402. He recorded 44 hits, 27 RBI and belted three home runs while achieving a 1.000 fielding percentage for a Newton baseball team that came within one win of clinching a playoff berth in a fairly stacked Region 8-AAAAAAA.
UCF, Eastern Kentucky and Virginia Are among the schools showing Wilcox love for his baseball talents. He’ll walk into his senior year being regarded as one of the state’s better outfield prospects. And the work he’s gotten the chance to do in Bradenton is only further proof of that.
“I got here due to an invite after I went and performed at the Buck O’Neil showcase out near Westlake High School,” Wilcox said. “Kindu Jones (senior coordinator of baseball development for the Major Leagues) saw me play and he brought me out for evaluations, and it allowed me to come here. It’s just been a great experience meeting new people and competing and getting good coaching.”
The prospect development camp lasts through Thursday, and even during Wilcox’s first 24 hours in Florida, he was able to call the experience beneficial. Wilcox and the other participants are doing everything from batting practice to pitching work while being taught different stretching techniques and arm care.
They’ll go live in actual game action during certain times of the week, and Wilcox realizes that a standout performance at the camp will only bolster his profile and the attention he’ll receive.
“Having the attention I do have, it only inspires me to go harder and try to be better,” he said. “But I can’t dwell on it too long. I can never be complacent. The way I see it, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. So the drive never stops, and no matter how much attention I get, I’m not going to allow it to affect the way I play and prepare.”
Wilcox said that mentality, particularly when it comes to baseball, comes from inspiration from his rec ball coach Shawn Starks. Since Wilcox began playing baseball at a young age, he says it’s Starks who can probably most appreciate his growth over the years.
“He’s where it all started for me as far as baseball goes,” Wilcox said. “He was helping me when I didn’t know which hand I was supposed to be throwing with or which side to bat on. But once I got the development that I did at that level, it took me to the next level, and I’ve been working hard at it ever since.”
Unlike his junior year, Wilcox hasn’t really placed any performance goals set in stone. Last year he said he met two of them — extra base hits and keeping his fielding percentage at 1.000. Even while in Bradenton with pro baseball eyes watching him, his aspirations remain broad and simple.
“I really don’t have any specific goals,” he said. “I guess my main goal is always to be the best guy on the field. That’s what I want to be. So I’ll take this opportunity here in Florida and any opportunity I can to continue working and perfect my what I’m doing on the baseball field.”
Until football season, right?
“It’s the same there too,” he said. “No matter which sport I’m in, I just want to perfect the craft. I’m using these days and opportunities I have as an advantage over those who don’t have these opportunities. Hopefully I can one day bring it back to my community and expand it and extend what I know to others to help them. I just want to get better and give it back to my teammates and everyone who looks up to me.”