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As a son and brother, Penn State’s Adisa Isaac juggled “a lot” — now comes the NFL



The Athletic

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — When Adisa Isaac was in third grade, he asked a lot of questions, as third graders do.

There was one that needed a thoughtful explanation: “Why are my brothers and my sister different?”

His mother, Lisa Wiltshire-Isaac, expected this day to come. Of her four children, Adisa was the only one who spoke. She put him down.

His eldest brother Kyle Wiltshire, she told him, was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Deprived of oxygen during birth resulted in autism, intellectual disability, developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy.

Y’ashua Isaac, Adisa’s next brother in line, did not acquire certain developmental traits as a toddler. Doctors told Lisa he had an intellectual disability and developmental delay.

There had been a similar story with Adisa’s younger sister, Tadj Isaac, his mother told him. Tadj was also diagnosed with an intellectual disability and developmental delay.

So it was an understandable question that young Adisa asked.

But there’s another, perhaps better, one that will be answered this spring as he prepares to be picked in the early rounds of the NFL Draft.

Why was Adisa Isaac born? this family?

At the age of 3, Adisa could write his name and knew his mother’s phone number. When he was eight, he started learning the rules of the road, how to make the car go left or right, which pedal accelerates and which pedal stops. Lisa was often alone with the children, whose fathers were not involved in their lives. Her mother liked the idea of ​​Adisa being able to drive, just in case.

As Lisa saw it, caring for Kyle, Y’ashua, and Tadj was her responsibility, not Adisa’s. But he looked at what she did and how she did it. When her burden became too much, he helped, making sure his siblings showered properly or brushed their teeth thoroughly, helping them get dressed, tie shoes, prepare meals or tidy up the bathroom – whatever whatever was needed.

When his friends were gaming, Adisa might take his siblings to the park, watch movies with them, or help with their Play-Doh creations. Lisa says she couldn’t imagine what she would have done without him.


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Lisa spent her childhood in Curepe, Trinidad and Tobago, where she had never heard of the NFL. She emigrated to New York with her mother and sister when she was eleven. Now a special education teacher, she works at PS 138 in Brooklyn with students in kindergarten through second grade. At home she does what she does at work.

“I’m doing,” she says in a Trini accent, “what I have to do here.”

How she does it, especially since Adisa went to Penn State, is a mystery.

“She does a million things in the dark that are quite inexplicable and that make her who she is,” says Adisa.

“You can have a full conversation with her, and somehow she knows what all three of her (developmentally disabled) children need without even looking,” said Kyle Allen, Adisa’s football coach during her first three years at Canarsie High School.

Adisa’s strength, he will tell you, comes from her.

For most of his childhood, the family lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where trouble could be found at every bus stop or grocery store parking lot. Sometimes, like a drawing guard, it seemed to come out of nowhere in anger. But Adisa always managed to get around it.

Allen says he never saw Adisa shorten classes, hang out with the wrong people or argue. Lisa focused on his grades, so schoolwork eventually became a priority along with family and sports.

When Adisa was a sophomore in high school, he came down with the flu. His mother instructed him to stay in bed and drink fluids, then called to see how he was doing, only to hear voices in the background.

Lisa: “Where are you?”

Adisa: “At school.”

Lisa: “What do you do at school?”

Adisa: “We have a basketball game today and I can’t let my boys down.”

“He always puts others before himself,” says Lisa.

The first time Adisa stepped onto a football field as a freshman, he found himself where he was meant to be. “I was in love,” he says.

The game loved him back. After initially considering Adisa as a wide receiver, Allen became impressed with the way he shot from his stance, so he made him a pass rusher. Allen also recognized a remarkable football character.

“When I started coaching him, I realized he was a little different than the other kids,” Allen said. “His maturity level was different. His focus was different. His coachability was different.”

Adisa was Canarsie captain for three seasons and team MVP for two seasons. As a senior, he had 25 sacks and was rated as the No. 1 recruit in New York by 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals.

He chose Penn State over Alabama, Michigan, Miami and other schools because he was impressed with the way coaches treated his family. And a school within driving distance was a priority because Kyle is uncomfortable on airplanes.

Adisa Isaac (right) with brothers Kyle (top) and Y’ashua (left) and sister Tadj (bottom). (Courtesy of Lisa Wiltshire-Isaac)

Kyle, 33, is often cautious, serious and keeps to himself. Adisa suppresses his fear. Kyle grumbles. Adisa makes a funny face. Kyle bursts into tears, transformed with a halogen smile. And then he wants his brother’s attention.

Tadj, 19, wants his affection. She is possessive of Adisa. If someone she doesn’t know shakes his hand, she might grab Adisa and try to pull him away. After one match last season, he was signing autographs to a group of people when a very excited Tadj seemingly came out of nowhere, attacked him and almost attacked him with a hug – and then a wet kiss on the cheek.

“She’s just a really sweet girl,” he says.

With Y’ashua, Adisa is more likely to give chase. Y’ashua has a mind of his own and likes to push his boundaries, especially when he sees an opportunity to flirt. “He’s a cool guy,” says Adisa, who at 22 is a year younger than his younger brother, with whom he shared a bedroom in his youth.

At every Adisa game, his siblings wore jerseys, T-shirts or jerseys with his name and his number 20 on the back. And of the hundred thousand fans surrounding them at Beaver Stadium, none were more exuberant and joyful than the three sitting in the front row behind the Nittany Lions’ bench.

Adisa found them during pre-match warm-ups. When he came to the sideline after a defensive series, he often let them know that he saw them. They pointed. He did a little dance. They went wild.

“They shout, make noises and gestures,” he says. “It makes me feel good to acknowledge them and then start playing with my heart and soul.”

In 2021, however, they had little reason to be enthusiastic. That summer, Adisa was doing lateral exercises when his ankle gave out. Adisa had to undergo surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon and missed the season. It was a challenging time in his life, but few knew it.

“He was like, ‘Well, it happened for a reason and I’m going to get over it,’” Penn State defensive line coach Deion Barnes said. ‘He doesn’t really care that much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lying there.”

It took time for Adisa to fully return, but by the 2023 season he was ready to rise to a new level. He led the Nittany Lions with 7 1/2 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss. He was voted first-team All-Big Ten. Sports Information Solutions named him first-team All-American.

Teammates voted him captain last season. He acted as a go-between when coaches and players were disconnected. To a teammate, Adisa emphasized the importance of following proper technique, even if that player had success doing things his own way. When another player became frustrated by a slump, Adisa spoke to him every day to keep him engaged and optimistic.

He also spent about 20 hours a week interning at State High School, earning $10 an hour working with children with disabilities.

Adisa often worked one-on-one with students. One boy, Sahd, struggled with anxiety. Adisa taught him, in the voice of a late-night jazz DJ, how to walk down the hall with his head held high, how to be assertive about what he wanted and how to interpret what was happening around him.

“Eventually he grew and learned and took on a more joyful personality that he didn’t show in the beginning,” Adisa says.

Adisa sometimes worked a dorm shift and stayed overnight to teach students how to be self-sufficient and prepare for independence.

Barnes says Adisa was still taking extra soccer training while working her way through the high school. “It was as if the internship didn’t even exist in my eyes,” Barnes says.

“I got a little tired at times, but it was great for me to be able to help them grow,” says Adisa. “I feel like I’ve been juggling a lot, a lot more than that. So it came easy for me.”

At 6 feet tall, Adisa is more than a head taller than his siblings. His mother cannot explain his height. Or his heart.

“Sometimes he wonders why I’m staring at him, because he’s so in awe of me,” says Lisa. “He is such a beautiful person.”

Adisa has learned the value of selflessness and how a positive attitude can impact those around him. He discovered why responsibility is important and developed patience. All this is reflected in the footballer he has become. He is like no other prospect.

“You would want a thousand Adisas,” says Barnes.

Perhaps his most notable trait is his ability to bend. A protractor would say that it sometimes rushes the passerby at a 160 degree angle. Barnes says he’s turning the corner on the flexibility of Chandler Jones, who had 112 career sacks for the Patriots, Cardinals and Raiders.

“When I saw him practice at his pro day, he dropped so low I thought he was going to fall, but he’s holding up,” says one veteran NFL talent evaluator.

His adaptability is not limited to football. “He can adapt very well,” says Lisa. “He will see a situation and adapt to it, adapt if necessary, try to provide a solution.”

Isaac with his mother, Lisa Wiltshire-Isaac. (Courtesy of Wiltshire-Isaac)

He wants to continue helping people with disabilities. Potential charity initiatives swirl through his head. He graduated last December with a major in rehabilitation and social services and is thinking about dedicating his life after football to children with disabilities, possibly in counseling or teaching.

After Adisa worked out in front of NFL scouts at Penn State’s pro day, he, Allen and Allen’s two sons sat outside the Penn State Berkey Creamery eating ice cream. Allen asked him if he realized he was going to be rich soon.

Adisa said yes. His family now lives in a rough area in East Flatbush. His goal is to provide them with a better home, and he wants them near him.

“I feel like God knew what he was doing that put me in this situation,” Adisa says. “Obviously I’m here for a reason.”

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletics; photo: Todd Rosenberg / Associated Press)