One of the more interesting stories in the 2011 NFL draft is the plight of TCU center prospect Jake Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick spoke with Draftinsider.net’s head scout Brent Sobleski recently and detailed his unlikely path which will eventually wind its way to the NFL. The center talks Senior Bowl, the birth of his first child, his teammates, and being a combine snub.
Even when dreams are on the precipice of coming to fruition, life can get in the way. Life is good for Texas Christian center prospect, Jake Kirkpatrick.
Early in 2011, Kirkpatrick was an integral part of an undefeated TCU Horned Frogs’ squad which completed the accomplishment after winning the Rose Bowl against a powerful Wisconsin Badgers’ roster. He was also awarded the Rimington Trophy as the best player at his position. Finally, he became a father for the first time.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Kirkpatrick commented when asked if the team considered itself national champions after its unblemished season. “We would have loved to play for that chance. The Rose Bowl is good as it gets. I was thrilled with it. I don’t want to take away from Auburn.”
While all of this was occurring, the meat grinder known as NFL draft and its accompanying process was looming.
Kirkpatrick’s off season began with the Senior Bowl. Yet, the trials and tribulations of being under the close scrutiny of NFL coaches and talent evaluators was counterbalanced by his unique situation at home.
“It was definitely hard to focus that week,” Kirkpatrick admitted. “That week is stressful enough plus knowing my wife was at home pregnant.
“Overall, it was a great experience. I felt it helped me a lot. It showed whether or not I could handle a head up nose. I would go against against (Baylor’s) Phil Taylor, at a legit 340 pounds, while doing one on one and team drills. The experience helped me out a lot.
“Then when the week was over, I landed in Dallas at 8 p.m. and she had the baby that morning.”
A beautiful baby girl was born to the proud parents, and the NFL was the furthest thing from the center’s mind. His frame of mind had to change as quickly as his life just did.
For most prospects, over 300, the next step for those aspiring to be a professional football player is to attend the combine in Indianapolis as they are tested, poked, prodded, and interviewed by NFL brass. Kirkpatrick was not invited despite being considered the best at his position as a senior.
“I was definitely thrilled to win the award (Rimington Trophy),” Kirkpatrick explained. “I was on a high from winning that then being named to numerous All-American teams. Then I wasn’t invited to combine. It was stressful. Personally, I believe the Senior Bowl was bigger for me. I got to perform every day in front of coaches and scouts. We did football drills. Yes, I would have liked to have gone, but it didn’t work out. In the end, it will work out one way or another.”
One of the measurements scouts would have quickly attached to Kirkpatrick while at the combine is the length of the pivot’s arms. His appendages were measured as the shortest among the offensive line class in Mobile, Alabama during the Senior Bowl. If the measurement were to be cross-referenced from the Senior Bowl compared to those who did attend the combine, the same result appeared.
“I know I have short arms,” said 6-2 301-pound Kirkpatrick. “I’ll simply try to focus on things I can change. They’re not going to grow, so there is nothing I can do about it. Thus, I don’t pay too much attention to that criticism. I just need to work hard on my game — improve my hands and get quicker off ball. Those are things I can focus about.”
The situation Kirkpatrick is experiencing isn’t new. Two recent Rimington trophy winners, Greg Eslinger (2005) and A.Q. Shipley (2008), faced the same criticism. Each eventually became sixth round selections. Scouts were complimentary of multiple aspects of the Horned Frog’s game.
“They have given me comments on my handwork and quick feet,” Kirkpatrick detailed. “They did question that I didn’t face too many heavy loads against a head up nose. That’s what they all wanted to see. I got to do it at Senior Bowl. This is what I can improve on, but they felt I was explosive in the hips and coming off ball.
“I really do like to hear what they say. I’m the biggest critic of my game. I lived in the film room my entire career at TCU, because I didn’t get to play football growing up. I went to school that didn’t have football. I transferred my senior year and switched to football. I had played every other sport previously, but I always wanted to try to play football. Tyler (high school) gave me a chance. TCU saw me there and offered me.”
TCU took an one-year starter at tackle coming out of the high school ranks, and eventually molded that neophyte football player into a stalwart and pace setter along its offensive line.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today without our coaches,” Kirkpatrick complimented. “Coach (Gary) Patterson and the team’s offensive line coach, Eddie Williamson, are as good as they come. TCU is where it is because of those guys. It was fun to be a part of it. We came in and the team was already winning. Every year we simply tried to take it to the next level.”
When Kirkpatrick refers to “we”, he isn’t speaking in generalities.
“Andy (Dalton) is good as they come,” Kirkpatrick praised his teammates. “There would be no TCU without him. He is a great leader and so passionate about the game. He is one of the best friends I have. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy or quarterback to have played with. It’s going to be sad to make it to the next level and see him with someone else. I’ve seen him grow so much.
“Marcus (Cannon) is a big guy and physical. His is really light on his feet for someone of his size.
“We all came into the program together, and it was fun to see how each one of us have grown during our time together.”
As Kirkpatrick continues to prepare for April 28th and his dream of becoming a NFL player nears, he can be secure in knowing multiple offensive line starved franchises like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Dallas are interested and may be in need of his services.