I don’t own a college football jersey.
Here in Canada, we don’t get too involved with the university hype. I rarely pay attention to the players until the 49ers are out for the season and the draft looms on our hopeful horizon of better years to come.
However, while awaiting the Chiefs/Browns game, I was scrolling on Twitter and came across a photo of Kansas City wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. He was wearing Patrick Mahomes’ TTU jersey. What an honour, I thought.
For a teammate to pay tribute to your past, that’s a whole new layer of respect.
And given George Kittle is the best TE in the NFL, it’s only fitting that his name be the first college football jersey I own.
Kittle is unlike any player I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. If you type “George Kittle Iowa Hawkeyes” into YouTube, you’ll be rewarded with a compilation video of every single touchdown scored by the then Hawkeyes tight end.
Before he entered the National Football League, Kittle already earned his leadership wings. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
Little Kittle played in 22 games at Iowa. He had 48 receptions for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns. Following his college career, Kittle was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis—he was one of only 19 collegiate tight ends to receive an invite. Of course, the rest is history and GK was drafted in 2017 as the 146th overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
In his rookie season, Kittle was named the starting tight end by head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the tight end became a captain in just his second year with the team. Coach Shanny wasn’t the least bit surprised that Kittle’s teammates voted him in.
“The players see all those things. How reckless he plays—in a good way—to how banged up he is on Monday and what he does to get his body healthy for practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to get ready for the game.” Shanahan told PFT’s Mike Florio at the time. “He’s all about ball 24-7.”
Kittle went on to break Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce’s single-season receiving yards record less than one hour after Kelce broke the same record at the end of 2018. The 49ers captain finished the season with 1,377 yards and five touchdowns.
2019 gave 49ers fans a season to remember. George Kittle had another 1,000-plus yards and five more TDs.
He added a few highlights to the reel, too. Including:
The Laughing Pancake Block
The Ramily Bunch
Three Saints, One Kittle
Let's be real, his whole season was a damn highlight.
While watching the KC game this past Sunday, it became clear that the announcers were all in on Travis Kelce. Of course, Kelce takes the cake for tight ends when looking back on 2020. He finished with 1,415 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 49ers pesky injury bug took a bite out of Kittle’s season, so of course, he wasn’t able to put on a clinic like usual.
He missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a knee injury, but prior to Week 8, Kittle had 37 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns. He was on track to another epic year, despite the never-ending list of players finding their place on the IR, too.
Don’t get me wrong, both Kittle and Kelce are absolute monsters. Add Gronk—in his prime—to that list, as well.
There’s something about Kittle, though.
Now, looking at the 49ers current roster (no California dreamin’ about Deshaun Watson), Kittle is locked in the longest out of every other player; his recent contract extension holding him until 2026. That automatically gives me a little sense of hope in regards to the leadership of this team, because Kittle is a natural.
Leadership is one of the most important qualities in football. Without a strong voice of guidance, a team is just a bunch of sheep running amuck and confused at what to do with their lives. Basically like the Jets this past season.
Side note: Frank Gore deserves so much better.
Back to Kittle. He’s a humble leader. And I say this in reference to last season after the 49ers shredded the Cheeseheads 37-8 at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers TE took to the podium following the game and praised quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the words of encouragement he gave to the offense after two three-and-outs.
“That was really awesome,” smirked George. “Everything after that just kind of took off because of what Jimmy said.”
Just a friendly reminder: George Kittle had 6 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown in that game. He’s the type of leader who hypes up the dudes around him, yet also gets his hands super dirty, too.
And even when there’s not much gas left in the tank of a 6-8 season, Kittle bared his gritty teeth and suited up to play against the Cardinals after recently recovering from a broken foot.
He has the soul of a warrior.
That’s something you can’t learn in training camp. No, only the true legendary football stars somehow compartmentalize their pain and use it as fuel for the ever-burning fire within.
After Kittle made that one-handed catch in Week 17 against Seattle, he truly took my breath away. Pretty sure I wore his jersey around Vancouver for a week straight.
The smell was totally worth it.
Kittle finished the season with 634 yards and two touchdowns in just 8 healthy games. He promised us he’d be back with a vengeance and he did just that.
Only 237 days until the 49ers 2021 regular season begins and I already know which jersey I’ll be rockin’ for the first game.
Iowa Hawkeyes # 46: George Kittle.