The result was the switch to Sewanee (enrollment: 991), with psychology as a major instead of engineering, campus involvement instead of isolation in a jock dorm, soccer instead of football.
"I missed football, but unfortunately the two games fell during the same season, and I just found soccer more enjoyable," says Rote. "It was a new sport to the school and we had a coach, Mac Petty, who was learning along with us. His attitude was great. There was none of the 'you do it my way or else' routine that exists so often in sports."
Rote graduated in June 1972, and married Mary Lynne Lykins, a sophomore from Rossville, Ga., in the Sewanee chapel the day after commencement. The newlyweds moved into a small apartment in North Dallas, and Kyle signed a contract with the Tornado, which chose him in the first round of the NASL draft.
Dallas' selection of Rote was dictated more by his local appeal than by his college accomplishments, but one scene Tornado Coach Ron Newman had witnessed one afternoon in the summer of '69 made the risk seem worthwhile. It was during a scrimmage between Rote's amateur team, the Black Bandits, and the Tornado.
"Kyle didn't look too polished, just big and strong," Newman recalls. "Then at one point the fellow who was marking him eased off just a little. Bang! Kyle was by him like a shot and positively cannoned the ball into the back of our net. Well, I thought, one goal might be a fluke. Then, a few minutes later, he did the same thing again. It was a pretty impressive performance. When his name came up in the draft, it was not hard to remember that tremendous potential."
The potential remained on the Tornado bench throughout 1972, a season in which the team moved from the Franklin Field at Hillcrest High School to the luxury of artificial turf, $50,000 picture-window suites and the semidome at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' home in suburban Irving. But Rote showed during practice and in intrasquad games that he was developing. "Kyle was so amiable and obviously trying so hard that getting help from the other players was no problem," says Liverpuddlian John Best, an All-League defender who also serves as an assistant coach of the Tornado. "The problem was that he was getting a barrage of help. An indication of his high intelligence is that he was able to sift out what really applied to him."
From Forward Luiz Juracy, a Brazilian who had played many times with and against Pel�, Rote learned the Pel� technique of always moving under tight, tense muscular control, ready to make a break in any direction, and how to bound into the air for a header while still looking around for the most appropriate target. From All-League Goalie Kenny Cooper, who is English, he learned the particular shots a goalie fears most, an unusual confession from a goaltender. Defenders Best and Dick Hall taught him how to outmaneuver a defender and maintain the strongest possible position. From Midfielder Bob Ridley, a South African who has played all over the world, the lesson was how to hit a low sinker shot at the goal, one that dives, skids and is extremely hard for a goalie to block.
"It was frustrating," says Rote, "but I never felt bitter. I figured my physical assets—speed, willingness to make contact and the ability to leap into the air—would help a lot even if I would never become very adept at controlling the ball with my feet." Even that skill is being improved, against tennis bangboards, on outdoor handball courts and off the walls of the Rotes' small apartment. "All the lamps are left on the floor behind the end table," says Lynne, "because that's where they'll end up anyway."
Fortunately, at six feet and 180, Rote is large for a soccer player. His position is more like that of a rebounding basketball center, who stays up near the goal, than of a playmaking guard. "Where Kyle is strongest is in the air, banging the ball around with his head," says Best. "And yet he hasn't come close to realizing his full potential in that area."
During preseason training this year Newman still did not visualize Rote as a starter. Rote's largest contribution to the club was being made in the front office, where he worked as General Manager Joe Echelle's assistant. But as the season opener drew near, Newman altered his thinking. "He was 250% better than the year before," says the coach. "It was amazing how quickly he was learning the more sophisticated versions of our wall play, the give-and-go and the rest. The more I watched him, the more it grew on me: he was my center forward."