BRISTOL -- Daniel Kilgore has always defied the odds.
Only a few high school football players ever get the chance to play in college. Even fewer make it to the NFL and of those, only a few ever play in the Super Bowl.
The former Dobyns-Bennett and Appalachian State player did that last month, playing in the biggest game in American sports as an offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’ve been very lucky for two years straight to go to the playoffs,” he said Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “This year obviously, I was very lucky to be part of a team which had great success. It was a real good experience for me and my family.
“We went to New Orleans for a week and had a real good time. We didn’t end the game like we wanted, but it was a great experience and we learned from it.”
Kilgore was at BMS as the honorary starter for Sunday’s Food City 500. It was a different role for Kilgore, who has been coming to BMS for years as a fan.
“Being from this area, working the race, selling programs here with my parents for the D-B quarterback club, it’s pretty awesome to come back here with how it all fits together,” Kilgore said. “To be able to be part of the driver’s meeting, to wave the green flag, it’s a great experience. I’m very honored.”
He wasn’t someone who just showed up for obligations. He camped out at the speedway with friends since Thursday and even joined local music band The Twang Bangers on stage for a few songs on Saturday.
“I hung out with (lead singer) Wes (Holtsclaw) and the crew,” Kilgore said. “It was fun for sure to camp out through the week. It’s fun just to blend in with the crowd, cook out and have fun with my friends.”
The obvious question of comparing the NFL to NASCAR was posed. Kilgore, a 6-foot-3, 308-pound lineman, said much of the same qualities are needed in any professional sport.
Kilgore played in all 17 regular-season games, as well as every playoff game for the 49ers. He was used as a backup lineman on offense, as well a special teams starter on extra-point and field-goal attempts.
“In both, preparation is key,” he said. “These drivers prepare week in and week out, and that’s how we prepare in the NFL. To watch the race and enjoy yourself, it’s fun.”
Although he enjoys living in California, he said it’s not home. While in the Tri-Cities, he is giving to a local blood bank on Thursday and paying visits to area schools.
He mentioned the other guys from the area who played in the NFL this season -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, Tennessee Titans defensive back Coty Sensabaugh and Dallas Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensbaugh. He explained how two of them have been on the field together ever since he can remember.
“We played the Cowboys in the preseason my rookie year,” Kilgore said. “It was cool to be on the field with Gerald because he and I actually grew up together. He lived right down the street from us and I played backyard football with him and his brothers. It’s really cool to go from backyard football to the National Football League.”
Picked in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft, Kilgore played left tackle at Appalachian State his senior season when the Mountaineers allowed just eight sacks in 13 games.
Appalachian State was seventh in the nation in rushing and eighth in scoring that season, and Kilgore was named to both All-Southern Conference and All-American teams. Before that, he was an All-State player at Dobyns-Bennett for head coach Graham Coach with whom he has a close relationship.
“Graham Clark has been a great mentor to me and so many young men,” Kilgore said. “He made them better players and better men. He’s been a big part of my life.”
Kilgore also remembered the Indians’ defensive coordinator Darrell Watson. Watson coached for 42 years, 25 of those at Dobyns-Bennett, before dying on Wednesday in Bristol following an extended illness.
“Coach Watson, he battled it for a while and he’s not suffering anymore,” Kilgore said. “My prayers and thoughts go out to his family. He made me a better player, but not only a better player, but a better man. That’s what it is when you are working with kids at that age. That’s what he did for so many years. I loved coach Watson and may he rest in peace.”