Not sure how deep the Utah scouting report runs on the Washington football team as the Pac-12 entries prepare for Saturday night’s game in Salt Lake City, but it’s a good bet the Utes don’t know a whole lot about Jaxson Kirkland.
He's the player who's made the biggest lineup breakthrough for the top-10 Huskies. He's a second-generation UW offensive lineman. Kirkland’s football family tree goes something like this:
As a redshirt freshman, Jaxson is the only UW footballer to earn a starting assignment this season without any previous game experience at this level, opening at right guard for two outings; 28 years ago, Kirkland's father Dean was a senior and the UW's starting right guard for 12 games, and a 27-game first-teamer throughout his career.
Jaxson began his time at Washington as a left guard and he redshirted; his father started out as a reserve defensive lineman and he played right away.
Young Kirkland wears No. 51, same as his father; yet as a UW true freshman, Jaxson pulled on No. 65 while his father donned 98 as a temporary defender.
Jaxson carries a 6-foot-7, 318-pound frame; his father was a much more compact 6-3 and 293 pounds while sporting an insanely sculpted body-builder physique.
“I always worried that the guys who were 6-5 were going to get recruited, so I worked hard on my strength,” Dean explained back then. “I wanted to be the strongest guy coming out of high school.”
Dean did that and more, becoming the Huskies’ leading bench-presser at 450 pounds. He was so well defined as a lineman, in fact, that reporters continually pestered him about the use of enhancements—to the point that Dean sternly warned them he would no longer do interviews if the line of questioning persisted.
After his first start against Auburn, Jaxson Kirkland received a satisfactory grade from his coach for hanging tough in a highly competitive environment. “He was another young guy who held his own pretty good,” UW coach Chris Petersen confirmed. “With a lot of moving parts coming at you, I thought he did a nice job.”
Dean, as a redshirt sophomore, made his first start against UCLA at midseason in 1988, and heard the following first-time starter assessment from coach Don James: “It’s probably as good a performance as we’ve ever had out there, especially on the offensive line.”
Jaxson, after playing all 65 snaps on offense in the 21-16 loss to Auburn, was modest in sizing up his debut, saying, “It’s normal to have those butterflies and they usually go away after the first couple snaps or so, which they did.”
Dean, following his first start in a 24-17 setback to UCLA and its quarterback Troy Aikman, was outwardly confident and cocky, saying, “I think I proved to people I belong out there.”
Jaxson redshirted his first year in the program; Dean was one of three true freshmen to play for the Huskies in 1986.
Young Kirkland is now a redshirt freshman starter; Dean redshirted his second year at Washington because of injuries and poor play.
Jaxson was a first-team Oregon All-State selection for Portland’s Jesuit High School; across the bridge, Dean was a first-team Washington All-State pick for Vancouver's Columbia River High.
The young Kirkland chose Washington over Oregon, after de-committing from UCLA when the Bruins fired their offensive-line coach; Dean picked the Huskies over the Ducks.
Dean was named first-team All-Pac-10, captained the 1990 Washington team and played his final game in the Rose Bowl, in a 46-34 victory over Iowa. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Buffalo Bills and spent a season on the team’s practice squad.
“Obviously, there are a lot of photos at my house with him holding the Rose Bowl trophy,” Jaxson said of his father.
All along, Dean stayed extremely fit. In his last college season in 1990, he made the following statement about his workout habits that turned out to be eerily prophetic, “It’s the one thing no one can take away from you. You can do pushups and sit-ups on a dirt floor. You can be in prison.”
Fourteen years later, Dean was found guilty on 26 felony counts of fraud, obstruction of justice and paying illegal gratuities to union pension fund trustees and sent to Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan southwest of Portland, where he served six months. While locked up, Dean encountered former Washington and NFL fullback Rick Fenney, who likewise was incarcerated for money misappropriation.
“How did we get here?” Fenney remembered Kirkland asking.
Today, Dean has his world in order and he’s a successful developer in Vancouver, building waterfront condominiums along that Columbia River. He’s done so well he rode in his own Lear jet to the Auburn game in Atlanta, accompanied by former Huskies running back Greg Lewis. The old teammates posed for a photo in front of the sleek aircraft and posted it on Facebook.
Dean, the one-time workout king, is 50 now. He appeared a lot smaller, if not a little paunchy, in the rare public image of him.
Jaxson is just getting started but he’s larger than his dad was, quicker to enter the UW starting lineup than Dean and someday he might be a better NFL prospect.
Utah likely knows more about young Kirkland now than it ever wanted.