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Better Know a Freshman: Jontre Kirklin

Talented Athlete with plenty of unanswered questions as he changes positions.

Being a three-star DB at LSU is tough sledding. Imagine arriving at a school with a sea of talent and trying to make your way on the deepest part of the depth chart. There’s no clear path. There’s no real expectation. There’s just “show up and work.”

Here’s a list of 3-star DBs since 2013, Corey Raymond’s first signing class at LSU:

John Battle
Cameron Lewis

That’s it. That’s the list. Including Kirklin, that’s three players in five signing classes. This is basically the equivalent of Miss Natchitoches showing up at the Miss America pageant looking to win. Welcome to the Big Show, kid.

With all odds against him, could Kirklin make an improbable climb up the depth chart?

Back of the Card

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ***
247 Composite Rating: .8579

Kirklin ranks as the 667th prospect in America according to 247 composite. I’m sure that number was carefully pored over and he was precisely slotted in that spot. Shockingly, he was not selected for any All-American honors. He was All-Metro at QB for his HS, Lutcher, notably the hometown of former LSU WR great Jarvis Landry. He is what you’d suspect from an ATH playing QB for his HS, but he did post some eye-popping stats in three seasons as a starter:

7, 595 Yards Passing, 98 Passing TDs, 3,082 Yards Rushing, 51 Rushing TDs

He also rated as the 45th overall ATH nationally and 25th in the state of Louisiana. Five different defensive backs from Louisiana that rated higher than Kirklin signed with other programs, many of which were in the SEC. So it’s not as if the coaches crawled down the list of in-state DBs and chose the next highest ranked available player. No, Kirklin committed to LSU an entire year in advance of his eventual signing. This tells me this is a prospect the coaches coveted, rankings be damned.

Officially listed at 6’0”, 173, he’s slight of build but has good height for the position. He’s very similarly sized to Tre White, who was listed at 5’11”, 177 pounds as a true freshman, but finished his career closer to 200 pounds.

On the Field

Already There: Change of Direction Skills, Burst, Toughness

Working On It: Size, Learning His Position

Doesn’t Have It: Not Sure

Kirklin’s a tough eval because like Saahdiq Charles, there’s no highlights of him playing his future position of CB. He played QB for Lutcher out of necessity and he’s actually a quite impressive HS QB. That said, half his highlight reel are drop back passes, which don’t offer much of anything translatable to playing CB. I do think his experience as a QB can speed up his developmental arc, in that he’ll see and think about the game different than a lifetime DB. Here’s some of the skills that stood out on tape.

Already There

Change of Direction Skills: Corners do loads of starting and stopping, especially in man coverage, so it’s a very valuable skill. Bigger corners can get away with lacking short area burst and ability to change directions, but slighter frame players typically cannot. Kirklin can shift on a dime and you see it in his jump cuts when carrying the ball. 1:24 he makes two quick cuts which get him to the sideline and then he’s able to explode for the TD. 2:39 it’s just that simple cut, but he’s so fluid he makes it look easy while flying into open space. 1:41 he’s just showing off.

Burst: You get to see how quickly he can explode into open space on a few occasions, but I love this one at 1:07, which flashes his toughness and that explosive potential. Beating defenders with angles to the sideline is always a prime indicator of explosiveness. Then 1:16, watch him hit that open seam and explode by three defenders easily, and the drag another into the end zone for six.

Toughness: Even despite his slight frame, the kid is a relentless ball carrier. Very often it takes multiple tacklers to get him to the ground, which is quite the compliment to someone who weighs 165 pounds. Watch the play at :15 and see how there’s virtually no reason he shouldn’t have gone down at the 35 but instead drags defenders an extra 15 yards to the 20. Or the run at :33 where he runs through three different arm tackle attempts. I love the tenacity. The run at 2:23 has me questioning the laws of physics.

Working On It

Size: He’s exceptionally slight right now, but four years in the strength program should get him where he needs to be. He’s already added some good weight in the offseason conditioning program:

Shea Dixon

He needs to keep adding bulk, but he’s well on his way.

Learning His Position: A QB all throughout HS, Kirklin will need to master the finer points of playing CB. He seems to be well on track, but it’s understandable that he won’t arrive with near as much polish.

Doesn’t Have It

Not Sure: Again, hard to judge any inadequacies. Being 6’0”, he’s always going to be fighting a battle against bigger WRs. But he seems to have excellent athletic tools. He tested out with a 42” vertical, which is super impressive, but also ran unimpressive 40 (4.63) and short shuttle (4.35) at the same camp. He looks quick on tape, though. Maybe he lacks top end speed? Hard to tell.

Poseur’s 80s Movie Comparison

With this many references to going to work, there is only one way to go with this thing: a classic 80s movie about a young upstart trying to work his way up from nothing to become part of the big time. There’s a few options which meet that template, but let’s go with the big one...

Amazon.com

Wall Street gave us the classic 80s mantra, “Greed is good.” We’re hoping that’s the way Jontre Kirklin plays: greedy. But he’s not the Michael Douglas character, he’s Charlie Sheen. He’s going to hustle his way to the top however he can, and then somehow fight off both the feds and his former mentor.

He’s going to work smarter and harder, and hoepfully end up in a penthouse condo with Daryl Hannah. There are no shortcuts to success, no matter what Gordon Gecko tells you.

What the Future Holds

I don’t know. When Orgeron announced this week that Kirklin placed in the 2-deep, it came as great shock to me. He drew praise throughout Fall camp and in some measure, I wonder how much was to motivate older, more talented players with complacency. Come Saturday, he will have a passed up a handful of those guys and is line for playing time.

That’s truly remarkable for a kid so lowly ranked to be in line as a true freshman. Kirklin is going to see time tomorrow and it seems like it will be on defense. Maybe it’s a short term blip with the rumored suspensions looming, but the staff wouldn’t play him at all if they lacked trust.

The other dynamic I’ve considered here is that perhaps the staff tried to keep Kirklin under wraps. He didn’t do the camp circuit, didn’t try and go for national honors and didn’t even bother to publicly post a Senior highlight tape. His recruitment in the beginning, middle and end always pointed to LSU. He didn’t even so much as take an unofficial visit elsewhere or host other coaches even. Situations like this make you wonder if the kid was dead set on LSU and they suggested to him to not bother chasing any of those other honors? Then I find this clip:

He talks a bit about the ease on his family and LSU being home, which are pretty common for local recruits. What strikes me is his comment at the end, when asked about his relationship with O and Aranda. Most players, when posed this question, wax poetic about how great of a bond they share with the coaches and how big of a deal that played in their recruitment. Kirklin eschews the niceties entirely: “Oh with me, it’s just mostly work. The relationship is there. It’s just time to work.”

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the ethos of Jarvis Landry, but there’s a blue collar mentality that seems to permeate Lutcher, a sawmill town on the Mississippi river, about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Ok, so one quote, could mean anything... canned answer or whatever. Then he conducts another interview:

Trahan asks him about if he’s excited to play in Tiger Stadium and he replies that it will be fun, BUT HE HAS TO GO OUT AND WORK. Then he gets asked about playing defensive back and gives a couple quick shots about his tools and finishes saying HE’S GOT TO MASTER THE JOB. Trahan follows up with a question about the level of competition and prestige of DBU to which he says, I’M JUST READY TO GO OUT AND WORK. So then, how does he feel about playing in the SEC. Well, beyond it not feeling real, HE’S READY TO GO OUT AND WORK and it’s weight off his shoulder to GO IN AND WORK. Finally, Trahan asks him what’s the biggest thing he brings to LSU, to which he shyly defers, “I don’t know.” So Trahan pleads, “Anything? Attitude? Work Ethic? Playing ability?” This mother fucker, 18 years old, shakes his head and says:

“I LOVE WORKING. THAT’S THE MAIN THING. WORK. I’M A WORKAHOLIC. I LOVE THAT.”

This kid talks about football like it’s a full-time job and not in the “I gotta get paid!” way you hear from most immature kids. He’s talking about going in and working... constantly, repeatedly to any question you ask. He’s too shy to tell you what he’s actually good at, and the main thing he wants you to know about him is that he’s going to go work.

There’s a mentality there that’s not often seen from top-tier recruits, even ones from similar small towns or humble beginnings. Plenty of recruits say they love playing the game or offer empty platitudes about their work ethic, but Jontre Kirklin could just as well be putting on a hard hat and going in for his shift at the sawmill. This is work and he is ready for it.

In high school, I can remember my football coaches saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Jontre Kirklin showed up to LSU in August and served DBU notice, because he’s playing Saturday. He came to work.

High End: DB starter and heart and soul of the defense. Leader.
Low End: Caught in the sea of DBs and relegated to primarily ST duty.
Realistic: There’s something about him that makes me think I may wind up questioning every word in this piece. Just that quiet assuredness and determination to work. Guys like that tend to beat their talent level and I’m not even sure his talent level isn’t high. I have nothing to really gauge his abilities at defensive back. No highlights, no camp performances, no evaluations from others... nothing. What I do know is that he showed up on campus in August and earned a role in the 2-deep by the end of Fall Camp. Not bad for a 3-star. He’ll probably be better than any of us expect.