Jaxson Kirkland could be preparing for the NFL draft right now.
Consulting daily with an agent. Interviewing with pro teams coast to coast. Deciding how to spend that first paycheck.
Instead, the University of Washington's 6-foot-7, 315-pound senior offensive tackle reports to spring practice on the edge of Lake Washington four times a week, two hours a day, often times in a frigid morning chill.
"Last year was a such a unique and weird year," Kirkland said of the four-game, pandemic-interrupted season. "The college experience is important to me. It was just a bitter taste with Coach [Jimmy] Lake and the new offense. I love my guys, love my unit, so coming back was a no-brainer for me."
What Kirkland didn't say is he wants to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
He didn't hear that from the scouts and draft experts once his junior season ended, who pegged him as a second-day pick. Rather than be insulted, he's decided to show them otherwise.
The Vancouver, Washington, product and the son of Dean Kirkland, the former UW offensive guard and All-Pac-10 selection, changed positions a year ago — from right guard to left tackle — and he continues to rearrange his physique, dropping more than 30 pounds and putting 20 back on in a well-chiseled manner.
Jaxson Kirkland has been fanatical about this. He spent spring break in the Arizona sunshine, working out hard, never taking his eye off his quest. He's never far from a weight room.
College football analysts have ranked Kirkland as one of the nation's top 10 offensive linemen, the best in the Pac-12, at any position across the front line.
All five starters on the UW offensive line return, a first for the Huskies in six decades, since their back-to-back Rose Bowl teams.
Kirkland made this cohesive milestone happen by returning when he didn't really need to. He couldn't leave his guys just yet.
"I feel like with the five we have right now, we've been through it all," he said. "Sometimes I feel like nothing is new to us. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and what he we need to work on. We know all the calls together.
"It's really confident knowing the guy next to you is going to get the job done."
Kirkland has assumed a strong leadership role with this veteran offensive line, as well with the entire UW team.
A year ago, when spring practice was canceled, the Huskies basically had an all new line that badly needed work and a chance to bond.
Luke Wattenberg, who moved from guard to center, and Kirkland changed positions. Ulumoo Ale and Henry Bainivalu were new installed starters at the guards, and Victor Curne was a first-time starter at tackle.
They formed and remain the biggest line in Husky history, now averaging 6-foot-5 and 327 pounds per man.
Kirkland ironically is one of the smaller guys among these gigantic Huskies now.
He feels compelled to make this group dominate the line of scrimmage this fall and, of course, show the NFL scouts that with another college season he's a certifiable first-rounder.
"We filled three new spots and they stepped up and I was really pleased with how we played," Kirkland said of the 2020 season. "We did great in those first four games and we'll just build off it."
Kirkland has everything so carefully planned out. He's properly motivated to excel, to make the Huskies win, to personally move up. He's reaching for it all.
Who's to argue with that?
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