The transition of Johnie Kirton

After rushing for 2,675 yards as a senior at Jackson High School, Johnie Kirton joined the University of Washington football team. He started his career at fullback. After redshirting in 2004 he added 32 pounds and became a tight end. Now he is in the mix to start at defensive tackle for the upcoming Oregon game Saturday in Eugene.

Is Kirton surprised by how far he has progressed up the depth chart since making the switch from offense to defense?

"No. That comes from my high expectations. I expect myself to be at the top, just like I did at fullback and tight end. I just like a challenge, makes me work harder every day" Kirton told Wednesday.

One thing that has made the position switch easier is that Kirton knows the hidden secrets coming from the other side of the ball. "Having offensive knowledge has helped a lot," he said. "Knowing formations, I know what comes out of each formation."

He also returned five kickoffs last year when teams decided to kick short. When the ball gets in his hands Kirton's brain switches right back to offense. He expects to return a few more kicks this year, and when cover teams see a 6-foot-4, 290-pound athlete with running back instincts heading their direction, who knows what will happen!

"I like his attitude about coming in. He has one quarter of his career ahead of him and he's learning a new position. There's stages as you go through summer camp or spring ball, all the way through, and he's making steps" said UW Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, adding that he expects Kirton to get some playing time Saturday night.

Kirton has an unselfish attitude that every head coach would want in his players; he has no preference when it comes to position. "I just like being on the field," said Kirton. With that mindset he has been able to make a quick and successful transition to a defensive tackle and he is hoping he can finally beat the Ducks for the first time in his Husky career.

The Oregon game carries extra significance for Kirton for that very reason. When he made his college decision, he chose Washington over Oregon in a hotly contested recruiting battle. He does not want to have those lingering thoughts of doubt when his college career comes to end. He wants to make sure he gets a win at Autzen Stadium this last go-around.

Kirton's teammate and partner on the line Alamda Ta'amu had high praise for the new defensive tackle. "He's real good. (He has) quick feet (and) natural playing ability from coming in as a running back. It's hard for the offensive linemen to get their hands on him, he has power," said Ta'amu.

Even though Kirton has not been playing long on defense he still is a veteran of the college game and is not shy about giving advice to the younger linemen. "If you make a mistake, you have to erase that memory and go to the next play," he said when asked about the kind of advice he might impart. "You can't really let the coaches get in your head when you do something wrong. You have to put it behind you and say yes sir and fix it. You're not going to make every play or every tackle."

With his physical tools and leadership - along with the fact that the coaches will be rotating in a significant number of defensive linemen this fall - it will be surprising if Kirton does not have an impact on what goes on this year for the Huskies.

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