Jaxson Kirkland finishes his career with the Washington Huskies as one of the most accomplished offensive linemen in program history.
He entered as the son of Washington legend Dean Kirkland, a three-year starter, a team captain, and a first-team all-conference offensive lineman back when it was still the Pac-10. The shoes were large for Jaxson to fill, but he did exactly that. He became a five-year starter, with experience at left tackle and both guard spots. A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 member, there are few players in program history with as accomplished of resumes.
Kirkland spoke with Windy City Gridiron about his preparation for the 2023 NFL Draft, his inside-outside versatility, the biggest animal he’s ever hunted, and more.
JI: What was your favorite experience from your time at Washington?
JK: Definitely, there’s a lot in there, but I would have to easily say this past year, the 2022 season. The year before, we were 4-8, and it was one of the worst years the program has had in some time, and it really upset all of us, of course. We were hungry and motivated, and the whole mission coming into the next season was to rewrite those wrongs. We did more than that, because we ended up going 11-2 and winning a bowl game on top of that, and beat all these teams we hadn’t beaten in some time. It was a heck of an experience.
JI: I remember watching you guys this year and being amazed with how well you turned things around. You killed it.
JK: Yeah, I agree, and that’s funny, because everyone talks about like, “oh, now it’s gonna be a rebuild because we’re 4-8” and it’s tough, which isn’t the case with many [teams], but looking at our team, I just knew we had way too much talent, that we could turn this thing around fast, and that’s what happened.
JI: You’ve played both inside and outside in college. Is there any consensus from NFL teams on where they want you playing?
JK: I really think being versatile as an offensive lineman is a huge component to have great offensive line play. Obviously, there’s certain people that are solely left tackle or right tackle, but for the rest, that’s really not much the case. You gotta be able to play more than one position, because due to injuries and that next-man-up mentality, you got to be able to plug-and-play fast. That’s [good to] the versatility aspect. I like how it expands your mind as a player, because now you got to know everyone’s position. You create such a better understanding for the game, because one play or one game, you’re seeing it from a guard’s perspective, but now, you’re seeing from a tackle’s perspective, and maybe you can take those tackles perspectives back to guard. Your mind elevates, and the way you process things, it just all goes up, because you’ve had so much thrown at you, and you know how to balance it.
Talking to teams, they love my versatility, for sure, and they like the idea that I can play tackle, as well. But I think more the general consensus is that they view me as a guard, because I think I can play at a high level in there. [They think] my ceiling is high at guard, and I’d have to agree with that. I think my large frame and my long arms, it’s a huge advantage for me as an offensive guard, because a lot of the defensive tackles are shorter, [so] I can get into their chest easier.
JI: With your dad’s legacy at Washington, did you ever feel like there was a shadow lurking over you, or did you see it as a challenge to make your own legacy?
JK: Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly a little bit of both, and I prided my experience and the opportunity I had in front of me and the fact that it’s cool being a legacy kid. I really saw it as carrying my dad’s flag, getting in there and continuing on our last name, all that comes along with it, and all of our standards. At the same time, I was really carving my own path, because that was almost 30 years ago. I was gonna make it that I was gonna make my mark, as well, on top of my father, so it’s really cemented together. It was a combination, to answer your question, but no, it never felt like I was overshadowed. I made it my goal to create my own path and have things that I can reflect on, rather than just my father’s experiences.
JI: You got invited to the Shrine Bowl last year but in school. What did it mean to you to get invited again and participate in it this year?
JK: Yeah, it meant a lot, because last year, due to dropping out of the draft and going back to school, I never got the opportunity to compete in the Shrine Bowl. To actually do it for real this time, it was really fun and exciting, too, overall. Yeah, it was a great experience, being able to be around that many scouts and meet with teams at the same time. It was just a whirlwind of a week. Looking back on it, it’s like, “man, that’s a blast”, because how many people can say they’ve experienced something like that?
JI: Let’s say you’re at guard and dropping back in pass protection. What are the first things you’re looking at both pre-snap and post-snap?
JK: The biggest thing for me is just my eyes. At Washington, we call it like the number one fundamental of football: your eyes. To some, that may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be more complicated than that. You gotta obviously eye your defender, and what I talk about is reading stances: is this guy very loaded in his stance, meaning is he just gonna charge forward? Is he sitting back, squatting a little bit? Okay, maybe now I need to think about it moving laterally, left to right, on through the gap somewhere. That’s where I started. I want to understand his direction and what his plan is, and then before the ball is about to snap — in terms of pass protection — you have to have small targets. I really believe in an “aim small, miss small” mentality. You can look at the whole figure. A lot of those guys that are twitched up, doing eurosteps, dancing. They get guys in trouble, because the offensive lineman is looking at the whole body. If you just focus on a small part of his chest, it’s really not moving as crazy as [his] head and hands, so getting a small target and creating that relationship mirroring the defender. That’s really the biggest thing for me.
JI: Do you have any preference on which kind of blocking scheme you’d wanna play primarily in, like inside-zone, outside-zone, gap?
JK: I’d like one that blends all three. I was fortunate enough that, in college, that we did some stuff like that. Any offense that keeps it exciting and has that mystique to it where you’re throwing so many different schemes and plays, getting those d-lineman running and working and not getting them in a rhythm where they know what’s coming, that’s a huge part that I think is important. You’re starting to see that more with NFL teams, too, is all this misdirection and so many different schemes at once. It’s tough on defenses, so I certainly want to be in a place that runs all those, because you I love them all.
JI: How do you like to spend your free time outside of football?
JK: I consider myself very extroverted, and football has something to do with that. You’re around people so much that, when you’re off the field, you want to do the same. Whether it’s hanging out with friends and family, I’ll spike up conversation, hanging out. Other people definitely like to do that. I really just kicking back with my loved ones and close friends, but I also like to hunt and fish like every offensive lineman. I was fortunate [that] I grew up in the state of Washington. We got a lot of very nice wilderness areas that are great for fishing and hunting. I like to do it all.
JI: I’m jealous, man. Those West Coast views are totally different from anything I see back in Illinois.
JK: Yeah, I always forget that when I go to places [outside of] the West Coast or the Northwest, because I’m just so used to it. I’m like, “wow, that’s why everyone is amazed by all the trees. That is a thing. It’s different”.
JI: What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever shot?
JK:I would say a full elk. It was a full-grown male bull. Those things are...I’d say anywhere from 500 to 800 pounds. I mean, they’re monsters. Everyone knows what a deer looks like, but a lot haven’t seen elk. I really say an elk is like a small moose. I mean, they’re huge. It’d be that for sure.
JI: That’s massive. I feel like it would take a few guys to load in up in the trunk and prepare it for meat.
JK: Yeah, totally. Of course, you take it for meat, and that’s where you got to show how big it is, when you have a literally a freezer full, almost two freezers full of meat. We did ground meat for this elk, so it came out in large quantities and it was like, “wow, that’s really all from one elk. Two freezers are taken up”.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
JK: You’re certainly getting a lot of things, a lot of great things. First, on the field, [you’re getting] the most physical, violent offensive lineman out there, the guy who really loves the game. [I don’t do it just] because it’s like a job of mine. I do it because it’s my livelihood. That’s really all I know. It brings me joy. With that point, a guy who cares so much about the teammates next to him, and the culture of the team, and the rules and holds everyone accountable to the standard, and wants nothing better than the guy next to him to give the best he’s giving. [There’s a] huge team culture aspect, and I just want to elevate franchises to the highest level.
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