Florida Gators 2023 OT Target Fond of Hevesy's NFL Development History

Zach Goodall

Officially announcing his June offer on Friday, 2023 offensive tackle Payton Kirkland is a name that Gators fans will want to get to know.

The 6-7.5, 310 lb. rising sophomore from Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) possesses an 85-inch wingspan. Kirkland's outstanding and continuously growing frame is well above the average NFL offensive tackle, according to mockdraftable.com, which stands at about 6-5.5, 315.5 lbs., with nearly an 82-inch wingspan.

Kirkland is quite the athlete for his size, which can be seen in his tape and the athletic testing numbers he provides indicate. Kirkland competed in the Elite Underclassmen Showcase in Jacksonville this past June, where he says he clocked a 5.1-second 40-yard dash, 4.7-second 20-yard shuttle, and jumped 100 inches broad.

Mockdraftable.com credits the average NFL offensive tackle prospect with a 5.27 40-yard dash, 4.76 20-yard shuttle, and 102.25-inch broad jump, tracking the results of the NFL Combine dating back to 1999.

Kirkland has the makings of a college and pro offensive tackle as a sophomore, and he knows it. He's looking for a school that can develop him properly to make it to the NFL, and he's fond of Florida Gators offensive line coach John Hevesy's history of doing so.

"Me and coach Hevesy, we talk weekly," Kirkland told Sports Illustrated - AllGators. "It's a great relationship that we've built, one of the first linemen in the nation with the offer."

Kirkland is one of five offensive linemen the Gators have offered in the 2023 class, according to 247Sports.

"Coach Hevesy has a great background of guys he's put in the league," Kirkland continued. "I've been on campus a couple of times, it's a great atmosphere out there. I've been at a camp, coach Hevesy was coaching me up from the beginning. So, like, it's a great place. I'd love to be there."

Following Hevesy's first season at Florida, offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor heard his name called by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, while another three offensive linemen earned at least a mini or training camp opportunity. Undrafted guard Fred Johnson went on to play in six games and start one for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie.

Hevesy saw five products of his Mississippi State offensive line drafted during and shortly after his nine-year stint as offensive line coach and other roles in Starkville.

Kirkland began playing offensive line prior to his freshman year, previously playing tight end, defensive end, and really anywhere his middle school coaches wanted to put him. He visited UF for a camp in July 2019, where he says Hevesy gave him some coaching points while making the transition.

"He was telling me about leverage and angles, my first steps and all that," said Kirkland. "It was the technical things that he was telling me."

Naturally, given his profile, Kirkland is already a national prospect with offers pouring in from powerhouse programs. Just over the past month, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn have sent offers his way.

Being a 2023 prospect, Kirkland is in no rush to make a decision. He isn't even sure if he will narrow things down to a list of schools, however, he plans to commit on August 12th, 2022. With that, there are a couple of offers that stand out early in his recruitment along with the Gators.

"Well, firstly it's Ohio State, being that it's always been a childhood dream. My parents love the school, my family loves it," Kirkland said. "Georgia is a great place, I've been out there on campus at Georgia a couple of times. I like Michigan State, and really, well I like Oklahoma as well."

Location and if the school is suitable for his family are two key factors in his recruitment, along with the school's history of developing pro prospects. Kirkland's athleticism and frame are sure to continue attracting college coaches and NFL teams down the line, which he views as strong points on the field.

"I feel like it's my athleticism, currently. I wouldn't even see myself as a lineman, I see myself as an athlete," Kirkland said of his strengths. "Also, my footwork. My mom always tells me it looks like I'm dancing out there, with the way I move. It's probably from playing basketball, I've developed good feet because of that. And it's like, beating him off the line, beating him to the spot, being able to overpower a man against his own will, that's one of the things that I love about football in general."

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