The Washington Huskies have plenty of veterans across their talented offensive line, but redshirt freshman Jaxson Kirkland is also earning abundant praise for his efforts at right guard this season. The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Portland, Ore. native has started all 13 games this season, helping the Huskies pave their way to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 18 years.
The Dawgs took a particularly tough path to their third straight New Years Six Bowl appearance. They started their season in Atlanta against Auburn and had to fight through five conference road games en route to their third consecutive 10 win season. The gauntlet the Huskies have fought through has helped Kirkland mature beyond his redshirt freshman standing.
“I feel like I’ve seen everything,” the Jesuit High School product said. “I went against a great player at Auburn (Derrick Brown), Utah had a great front seven. I think I’ve faced some of the best and I don’t really think much can faze me out there now.”
Kirkland is by far the youngest starter along the offensive line. Nick Harris and Luke Wattenberg were part of the same 2016 recruiting class. Kaleb McGary arrived on campus in the fall of 2014. Jared Hilbers and Trey Adams, who have both tallied starts at left tackle this season, were part of the class of 2015. Kirkland faced a steep learning curve building continuity with his teammates while preparing for this season.
“When I first got in here I was working my scout team stuff, didn’t really have much relationship with (the starting offensive linemen) but at spring ball I got more reps, talked to a couple more guys, and then fall camp I started rotating with the ones. I had Kaleb (McGary) next to me, guiding me. They had all the faith in me. They knew I was going to mess up sometimes, but the biggest thing they told me is there is going to be a bad play, shake it off, forget about it, and bounce back. They had my back the whole time and they made sure I was up to tune with everything. Going through that process, they were there for me and they would stay with me after practice, help me learn some plays here and there.”
While Kirkland is in just his second season at Washington, he has Husky heritage in his blood. His father, Dean Kirkland, played right guard for the Huskies from 1988-1990. In fact, Jaxson currently dons the same number 51 that his father wore during his college career.
“It’s cool because the legacy of my dad’s number and everything and playing his position,” Jaxson said of continuing the Kirkland family legacy. “But he wants me to be better than him and he told me he already thinks I am playing at a level better than he already played. I’m just kind of going on my own path.”
Dean Kirkland’s final game as a Husky was Washington’s 46-34 Rose Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. When the Huskies clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl last Friday after beating the Utes 10-3 in the PAC-12 Championship, Jaxson received a phone call from his father congratulating him on his accomplishment.
“Right after the PAC-12 Championship he spoke to me on the phone when I was getting on the plane,” said Jaxson. “He was almost in tears. He said ‘if I would have thought 20 years ago, 1998, that when you were born you were going to the Rose Bowl exactly like I did, I would have said no way.’ He was really just speechless about it. I think once he sees me out there playing on January 1st I think then it’s going to become real.”
Jaxson Kirkland and the Washington Huskies will look to add another Rose Bowl Victory to their legacy on January 1st against Ohio State.