Nov. 8, 2008
By Michael Jeremiah
There are thousands of high school football players that dream of playing college football. Of those players, a relatively select few have the ability to play even one position at the high level required to play in college. An even smaller number are able and willing to play multiple positions in college.
While these players are few and far between, the Huskies have at least one in senior defensive tackle Johnie Kirton. His career at Washington has been filled with unexpected changes, but Kirton's selflessness and hard work has led him through five years that included three position changes. Through all the change, the one constant has been his willingness to be a team player.
"I feel in my heart that I bleed purple and gold," said Kirton, "And I will never stop. I have always put the team goal of winning ahead of my own."
Kirton made a name for himself in high school as a running back. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Kirton ran through, and often times, right over high school defenses. During his senior year, he amassed 2,675 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on his way to being named the Gatorade State Player of the Year and the AP State Player of the Year.
Kirton didn't let a superstar mentality forget the teammates that helped him to succeed. After big games, Kirton would cook dinner for the Jackson offensive line. It's no secret that often times running backs get all of the glory, and dinner was a way of showing that Kirton knew it was a team effort.
That effort led to plenty of attention from the top college football programs in the region. He was one of the top prospects in the state in 2004, and was drawn to Washington for its tradition and the team unity.
"I would say just watching it ever since the beginning of high school was one thing that drew me," said Kirton. "On my recruiting trip, there was 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 would best help the team at tight end. It was a position that he had little experience playing, but if it was for the good of the team, he was willing to try anything.
Kirton spent the next three years at tight end. As a redshirt freshman in 2005, he started two games, and scored his first career touchdown against Idaho. He also earned the Travis Spring Outstanding Freshman award for offense.
The success continued in his sophomore year, as he caught touchdown passes in games against Fresno State and UCLA, both wins for the Huskies. His touchdown against UCLA proved to be the game winner.
He would spend another year at tight end in 2007, but after the season, he was moved to the defensive side of the ball. The depth at defensive tackle was thin, and consisted mostly of players with little or no college playing experience. With his size, determination, and unending dedication to the team, Kirton was a natural fit for the position.
"Really it was just all for the team," said Kirton, who added another 20 pounds to get to his current playing weight of 296 pounds. "Its just came down to me wanting to do it for the team and wanting to be the best team possible."
Always focused on the team, Kirton says the best part about his time at Washington has not only been the big games against Oklahoma and Ohio State and the Apple Cup rivalry, but also getting to know the other players that have been in the program with him. Players like Joe Lobedahn and Zach Tuiasosopo immediately came to mind for Kirton, as well as a younger player that has helped him in his latest transition to defensive line.
"[Daniel] Te'o-Nesheim is a good example of a guy who is younger than me who has helped me out," said Kirton. "He has played on the line for a long time so I knew I could learn from him."
Although some scouts for the next level may view the position changes as a negative, his versatility makes Kirton an intriguing prospect for professional football. Kirton hopes to explore those options after the season.
"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 professional football. I've got some other plans too, but football is first."
His résumé may be a lot longer than other pro prospects, as it boasts of experience at three positions instead of one. But there is one position that will best describe Kirton's time as a Husky.