Kirton: The Consummate Teammate
Nov. 8, 2008
By Michael Jeremiah
There are thousands of high school football players that dream ofplaying college football. Of those players, a relatively select few havethe ability to play even one position at the high level required to play incollege. An even smaller number are able and willing to play multiplepositions in college.
While these players are few and far between, the Huskies haveat least one in senior defensive tackle Johnie Kirton. His career atWashington has been filled with unexpected changes, but Kirton'sselflessness and hard work has led him through five years that includedthree position changes. Through all the change, the one constant hasbeen his willingness to be a team player.
'I feel in my heart that I bleed purple and gold,' said Kirton, 'And Iwill never stop. I have always put the team goal of winning ahead of myown.'
Kirton made a name for himself in high school as a running back. At6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Kirton ran through, and often times, right overhigh school defenses. During his senior year, he amassed 2,675 rushingyards and 34 touchdowns on his way to being named the Gatorade StatePlayer of the Year and the AP State Player of the Year.
Kirton didn't let a superstar mentality forget the teammates thathelped him to succeed. After big games, Kirton would cook dinner forthe Jackson offensive line. It's no secret that often times running backsget all of the glory, and dinner was a way of showing that Kirton knew itwas a team effort.
That effort led to plenty of attention from the top college footballprograms in the region. He was one of the top prospects in the state in2004, and was drawn to Washington for its tradition and the team unity.
'I would say just watching it ever since the beginning of high schoolwas one thing that drew me,' said Kirton. 'On my recruiting trip, therewas a good family feeling and atmosphere.'
Kirton's decision to play at Husky Stadium gave him a home field,but a position on that field was still to be decided.
His first stop was at fullback, but after a redshirt season in 2004,in which he added 32 pounds, coaches decided that Kirton wouldbest help the team at tight end. It was a position that he had littleexperience playing, but if it was for the good of the team, he was willingto try anything.
Kirton spent the next three years at tight end. As a redshirt freshmanin 2005, he started two games, and scored his first career touchdownagainst Idaho. He also earned the Travis Spring Outstanding Freshmanaward for offense.
The success continued in his sophomore year, as he caughttouchdown passes in games against Fresno State and UCLA, both winsfor the Huskies. His touchdown against UCLA proved to be the game winner.
He would spend another year at tight end in 2007, but after theseason, he was moved to the defensive side of the ball. The depth atdefensive tackle was thin, and consisted mostly of players with little or nocollege playing experience. With his size, determination, and unendingdedication to the team, Kirton was a natural fit for the position.
'Really it was just all for the team,' said Kirton, who added another20 pounds to get to his current playing weight of 296 pounds. 'Its justcame down to me wanting to do it for the team and wanting to be thebest team possible.'
Always focused on the team, Kirton says the best part about histime at Washington has not only been the big games against Oklahomaand Ohio State and the Apple Cup rivalry, but also getting to know theother players that have been in the program with him. Players like JoeLobedahn and Zach Tuiasosopo immediately came to mind for Kirton, aswell as a younger player that has helped him in his latest transition todefensive line.
'[Daniel] Te'o-Nesheim is a good example of a guy who is youngerthan me who has helped me out,' said Kirton. 'He has played on the linefor a long time so I knew I could learn from him.'
Although some scouts for the next level may view the positionchanges as a negative, his versatility makes Kirton an intriguing prospectfor professional football. Kirton hopes to explore those options after theseason.
'I am going to train for the Pro Day and see where I go from there,'said Kirton. 'It's always been a dream of mine to play professionalfootball. I've got some other plans too, but football is first.'
His résumé may be a lot longer than other pro prospects, as it boastsof experience at three positions instead of one. But there is one positionthat will best describe Kirton's time as a Husky.