Kalil Pimpleton is CMU football's X-factor in 2020 season. Here's why

Central Michigan wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton catches a tennis ball during a drill on Monday, March 23, 2020, at the CMU Soccer Complex.

Kalil Pimpleton tucked his maroon team sweatpants into his white socks, laced up his Adidas shoes and began stretching. He wore a Central Michigan cap to contain his hair as a black Nike sweatshirt draped over the upper-half of his body.

Watching him, I asked myself, 'What truly defines stardom in a college athlete?' Whether it's a national championship, conference championships, personal accolades or you fill in the blank, the checklist of what it takes to become a star is always up for discussion.

But if there's something I'm certain about, it's that Pimpleton is the X-factor. As the unknown looms at the quarterback position, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound wide receiver will make or break the Chippewas in the 2020 season. Regardless of which player ends up at quarterback, Pimpleton is the rock that fortifies the offense.

Might redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson start now that senior David Moore's suspension has been upheld by the NCAA? What about the other two options in redshirt sophomore George Pearson and transfer Tyler Shearer? There's also the chance Jim McElwain brings in a graduate transfer for immediate eligibility purposes, like he did in 2019 with Quinten Dormady.

Nobody knows which quarterback will start come the Sept. 5 opener against San Jose State, but certainty lives within Pimpleton.

I watched Pimpleton workout for 90 minutes Monday at the CMU Soccer Complex. He caught passes from Southern Connecticut State sophomore quarterback Jackson Ostrowsky, ran through drills implemented by personal trainer Tony Cook Jr. and worked out side-by-side with 2020 NFL Draft hopeful and former CMU running back Jonathan Ward.

Pimpleton spoke at length about whatever came to his mind. He was a chatter-bug with Ostrowsky, Ward and Cook, making sure everyone was enjoying the fresh air and chance to lock in on football during a time where society is fully focused on the impact of the coronavirus. But that wasn't the only aspect of the workout he made obvious.

His intensity.

His teamwork.

His talent.

I witnessed everything unfold throughout those 90 minutes, as Pimpleton flashed his quick feet, quicker than anyone I've ever seen. He made catches that you'd only expect someone taller than 6 feet to make. Changing directions in a split-second wasn't a problem – one foot in front of the next with a calm sense of authority. 

Pimpleton didn't struggle catching tennis balls either, as Cook alternated throwing two of them, continuously trying to break Pimpleton's hand-eye coordination.

He never wavered.

Going beyond watching, I listened closely. In support of Ward, who is training for the draft, Pimpleton yelled, "Good shit, 5," multiple times and was quick to cheer on his former teammate while providing tips along the way.

Pimpleton's talent level compared to others in the Mid-American Conference helps his case as the X-factor. Starting his career at Virginia Tech as a freshman, he transferred to the Chippewas before the 2018 season but had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. Once he got on the field in 2019 for coach Jim McElwain, he became the top receiver in among his conference counterparts – 82 receptions for 894 yards and six touchdowns. Nobody in the MAC was ahead of him in catches and yards. He returned 24 punts for 208 yards and even dabbled in the run game with seven carries for 81 yards. 

But look further.

There's more to Pimpleton than statistical numbers. 

He's a leader, determined to improve daily while humbly understanding his worth on and off field. When he wasn't getting the playing time he felt he deserved, Pimpleton left Virginia Tech. He knew he was worth more than that, and it was proven in his first year with the Chippewas.

For that 5-foot-9 stature, he's never counted himself out whereas others were quick to do so.

"It's always been heart over height," Pimpleton said last season. "I always look past the height. It's all about the heart." 

Central Michigan wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton gets ready to throw the football on Monday, March 23, 2020, at the CMU Soccer Complex.

Pimpleton also knows how to smile, keeping it loose in the locker room and fully enjoying everything the game of football has to offer. 

Look no further than McElwain's office for an example of that, as the coach has a picture of the 1979 national championship team from their 40th anniversary. The former players meeting up again in Mount Pleasant was special, but McElwain said what stands out to him is Pimpleton's contagious smile.

"If I'm ever having a bad day I want him around," McElwain said. "He brings the best out of me as he does this whole team."

Describing stardom seems easy for non-Power Five quarterbacks, typically the most recognized players on the field, and not so much for those skill talents that can go unrecognized from the outside looking in.

As I walked off the CMU Soccer Complex, I understood that maybe Pimpleton, a junior this season, encompasses everything it means to be a star. All he does to make others better as a leader, along with his on-field success, is there any denying it?

If that's the case, there's no doubt he's the variable that will set the tone for CMU in the 2020 campaign, one where the Chippewas are seeking a MAC title that slipped away from them one season ago. 

Central Michigan needs every inch, pound and piece of his heart Pimpleton can offer to secure a championship. 

Based on what I saw Monday, the X-factor is ready to provide.