Tarzan will line up at left tackle for Washington this fall.
Of course, he’s more commonly known as Jaxson Kirkland — a redshirt junior from Vancouver who started 25 games at right guard over the last two seasons, earning Associated Press and Pro Football Focus All-Pac-12 second-team honors in 2019.
In January, Jaxson — the son of Dean Kirkland, a three-year UW starter at guard from 1988 to 1990 — sat down with Washington offensive-line coach Scott Huff, who proposed a shift to one of the offense’s most important positions.
“He asked me what I thought about the idea of switching to left tackle,” Jaxson said this week. “Looking at the team and seeing we have a little bit of a young group, I want to do what’s best for the O-line and what’s best for the team, and I think moving to left tackle — that transition — was what’s best. I was recruited as a tackle and I played left tackle in high school. I see myself as having more of a tackle body, being so tall. So the transition has been great.”
And that transition was accompanied by a physical transformation — even during a pandemic and an indefinite quarantine, when workout routines regularly fell by the wayside. In the distraction-free seclusion of his family’s home gym, Jaxson rigorously reshaped his 6-foot-7 frame — dropping 28 pounds, from 323 to 295, and settling at a svelte 14% body fat.
He re-emerged this summer, to use teammate Luke Wattenberg’s words, as “a whole new Jaxson.”
So what was his secret?
“How did he do it? He trained like Rocky Balboa every day,” Dean Kirkland said. “If you see pictures of him, he’s a freak. It’s just the work. The secret is, ‘I can. I will. I can. I will. I can. I will.’ Say it 10 times and then put it into motion.”
Which isn’t to say, like Rocky, he chugged egg yolks and chased chickens. No, that motion consisted of multiple workouts every single day — of lifting six days a week, and running four as well. It consisted of agility drills and workouts stretching late into the night. It consisted of occasional 10:30 p.m. meals, followed by biceps and triceps exercises of 40, 65 and 100 reps, until the towel he laid across the ground was soaked in sweat.
“We just had to take it into our own hands,” Dean Kirkland said of his son’s offseason improvements. “We had to. It’s either do this or come back and let his teammates and his coaches down. That wasn’t going to happen. (He said) if it’s going to be, it’s up to me and we.”
And when Dean says “we,” he’s referring to his wife as well. For several months, Kristin Kirkland served upward of six meals a day — with the priority being high-protein foods and minimal carbohydrates. She whipped up six eggs at a time (mostly egg whites). And turkey sausage. And chicken sausage. And ground turkey meatballs. And elk. And prawns. And scallops. And crab. And oatmeal. And avocados. And loads of lettuce wraps. It was a daily avalanche of prolific proteins.
On Wednesday, Kristin jokingly classified Jaxson’s meal schedule as “super, super constant.”
He certainly put in the work — but he wasn’t the only one.
“It was hell,” Kristin said with a laugh. “I was seriously back in the kitchen all day. As soon as I was putting the dishes away he’d come back down and be like, ‘I’m hungry.’ It was a lot, but definitely worth it.”
Added Dean: “She spent 70% of her time (in the kitchen) between the island and the burners.”
For the entire Kirkland family, sacrifices were made. And that’s really nothing new. Even before this undeniably unprecedented offseason, Dean said that “Jaxson didn’t eat any bad food. He’s religious about no junk food. No chips. No way. He just doesn’t do it.” And even now, he doesn’t have to: the family hired a food service called “Northwest Fit Meals” to deliver high-protein meals direct to Jaxson’s door.
And as for his workout habits?
“I’m going to use this phrase to you: master Jedi. Like a well-trained knight,” Dean said. “That’s what he is. He’s been doing that since he was a kid.”
It’s clear, then, that Jaxson Kirkland never needed any extra motivation. Not when he was ranked as a modest three-star prospect at Jesuit High School in Portland, receiving a UW offer just weeks before national signing day. Not when he was the last recruit to join Washington’s 2017 class. Not when his emergence as a redshirt freshman starter in 2018 was considered a significant surprise.
And not now.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t use the motivation anyway.
“I think he feels like he hasn’t gotten the recognition that he should have nationally yet,” Dean Kirkland said. “It’s possessed in him. He has goals. But I told him, ‘Look, all these kids are leaving (across the country). You’ve got unfinished business as a Husky. Let them leave. You’ll end up on the top of the pile before it’s over. Just do your job and help the team win and have fun.’”
So after all of the endless workouts, it’s finally time for the fun. When Washington kicks off on the road against Cal on Nov. 7, Jaxson Kirkland — who wears No. 51, just like his dad — will almost certainly be the left-tackle starter on a new-look offensive line. He’ll lead a unit lacking established Huskies Nick Harris, Trey Adams and Jared Hilbers.
He’ll play the same way but look a whole lot different.
“I often said to him (during quarantine), ‘You played like Tarzan. You’ve always played real nasty and tough. Now you look like Tarzan, too,’ ” Dean Kirkland said. “To move outside, he wanted to have the edge — physically and mentally. He wanted to show up and make sure the team and the coaches knew that he was ready to lead.”
Added Huff: “He’s just totally bought into making himself the best player that he can be. He’s looking really good and he’s moving really well and he’s hopefully taking his game to the next level assignment-wise and with anticipation of the defense.
“The kid’s just tough, man. I don’t know any way to say it other than he’s just tough. He’s a competitor.”
For months, Kirkland competed all alone; he transformed into Tarzan.
Now, all the extra reps and lettuce wraps are about to pay off.
“When the pandemic hit, obviously we all were sent home to quarantine,” said Jaxson Kirkland, who is also set to graduate with a 3.6 GPA next spring. “It was a little blessing in disguise, because I could wake up in the morning and do the same schedule I did here — lift in the morning and have class. I just took advantage of the situation and reached my goals with that.”