Kitchens Spent Offseason Differently

Darrin Kitchens went through the offseason workouts and conditioning with the rest of the team, but that's where the similarities ended. The junior linebacker became the only married player on the team when he tied the knot to his girlfriend of four years on June 23. Kitchens thinks the occurrences off the field have changed the way he approaches the game.

"It puts things in perspective," said Darrin Kitchens, who is 20 years old. "I'm not only doing things for myself, but I have a family to look over now."

A year ago, Kitchens never would've imagined being in this spot. He has been with Nathalie, his now fiancé, for four years later this month, and the couple new they would be married at some point. Kitchens just didn't expect it to happen as soon as it did.

The two were on a trip with their church in Alachua at Camp Kulaqua when Kitchens was blindsided by something he never expected.

"It was God," Kitchens said. "I knew that I wanted to marry her one day. We were at camp with my church, and I was praying, and God told me to marry her. I thought it was me at first. I started apologizing to God. I said, "Lord, I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be praying to you, and I'm over here thinking about her."

"Then, He said it again. I got scared and said that maybe I would do it tomorrow."

Kitchens didn't know how to handle himself. It was close to 4 a.m. that morning and the other people on the trip were tired from being up so late. Kitchens knew there was one thing left to do before he went to bed.

"At first she didn't want to hear what I had to say because it was about four o'clock in the morning," Kitchens said. "She wanted to go to sleep. When I said it, her eyes popped up and got all excited. She told her friends and everybody."

When asked if there was any doubt in his mind what Nathalie's response would be after telling her that God told him to ask her, Kitchens didn't have any doubt.

"That's a tip for everybody," he quipped.

During the engagement, "quite a few" of the Florida coaches took Kitchens aside to make sure his head was in the right place. They weren't doubting him or trying to talk him out of it, but they wanted to make sure his intentions were good. There message was consistent, telling Kitchens the importance of staying faithful to his wife.

"It wasn't a long, drawn out speech or anything," Kitchens said. "They sat down and talked to me to make sure that my head was in the right place. They let me know that marriage was a big sacrament and how special and important it was."

Kitchens was a wide-eyed freshman at Homestead High School when the two met. They started to date before Nathalie, then a senior, left to attend Florida Memorial University and the two broke up.

"She broke my heart," Kitchens recalled.

Two years later, she was back in town and the two started to talk more. They begin to focus on dating again, but both sides wanted it to be more serious.

"If we get back together, it's going to be for the long haul with hopefully getting married at the end of it," Kitchens said. "That's what happened."

The wedding happened at Spirit of Faith Christian Center on June 23 in front of 50-75 people. Kitchens experienced it with his best friend and teammate Gideon Ajagbe, who he met on his official visit in January of 2010, at his side.

It was an off week for the football team so most of the team already had plans to go their separate way. Linebackers coach D.J. Durkin and former Florida offensive lineman David Young were also in attendance.

The thick, gold ring Kitchens wears on his left hand doesn't leave his ring finger unless it's time for practice. With the Gators preparing for the fall season, he has been on the practice field and away from his wife.

His focus has now turned to earning more playing time.

"The competition is great all over the field," Kitchens said. "We've got a bunch of guys competing. I love the competition."

Kitchens is competing with Ajagabe and Neiron Ball, who he says will be "a force to be reckoned with," for playing time at linebacker.

There are also freshmen that have caught his eye. Linebacker Antonio Morrison, who Kitchens says "has matured a lot," was impressive from the moment he enrolled early and started practice in the spring. Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard have also impressed Kitchens this fall.

There's a common trait that stands out about the group.

"Their aggressiveness," Kitchens said. "That's one thing that I've seen and like. Everybody is going to take their time coming in to learn the plays, but you can't really teach aggressiveness. That's what I like."

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