For Washington, Thursday’s news was worth the wait.
Jaxson Kirkland — a two-time All-Pac-12 first-team left tackle, who dropped out of the 2022 NFL draft to undergo surgery on his right ankle — has been cleared by the NCAA to return for a sixth season this fall, he announced via a social media video.
“Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a Husky,” Kirkland said. “The purple and gold, the tradition, it runs through my veins. To carry on the family legacy was a dream of mine. Being developed into Sunday players is the standard we all set around here. This place is special. It has turned me into the man I am today. The brotherhood and bonds that go along with being a Dawg are unbreakable for life.
“The atmosphere and the 70,000 faithful at Husky Stadium mean everything to me. Words cannot describe how much it would mean to me to step back on this field and put the purple and gold on with my brothers one more time. Getting that opportunity would allow me to leave this program on my terms.
“Husky Nation: I’m back.”
Though Kirkland — the son of former UW and NFL offensive lineman Dean Kirkland — technically has one season of eligibility remaining, he declared for the draft prior to the NFL’s Jan. 17 underclassman deadline — which is why he needed an NCAA waiver to reinstate that eligibility. He enrolled at UW for the spring quarter and attended all 15 of the program’s practices, despite not being officially cleared to return.
When asked following the Spring Preview on Saturday if he had an update on Kirkland’s status, new Husky head coach Kalen DeBoer said: “No. I would love to give you an update. Nothing right now. We’re anxiously waiting.”
That wait officially ended five days later.
An All-Pac-12 performer in 2020 and 2021, Kirkland played in and started 10 of 12 games at left tackle last fall — sitting out against Arizona on Oct. 22 and Stanford on Oct. 30 with an undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-7, 310-pounder from Portland returned to action against Oregon on Nov. 6 and started the Huskies’ final four games.
Kirkland started 39 games — first at right guard, then at left tackle — from 2018 to 2021. The former Jesuit High School standout signed with Washington as a three-star recruit in 2017 over offers from UCLA, Cal, Oregon, Hawaii, Iowa State, Oregon State, San Diego State, Texas Tech and Washington State.
With Kirkland’s status unclear this spring, sophomore Troy Fautanu took the majority of starting reps at left tackle — alongside fellow starters left guard Nate Kalepo, center Corey Luciano, right guard Victor Curne and right tackle Matteo Mele. Kirkland — who had surgery on Feb. 1 — is expected to be healthy for the start of fall camp. He’ll likely slide back into his left tackle spot, while Fautanu — whom DeBoer called “a phenomenal player” — could theoretically start at left guard, right guard or right tackle.
On Twitter, UW director of player personnel Courtney Morgan called Kirkland’s return “our biggest commitment yet.”
UW didn’t need the transfer portal to land a Husky legacy — and possibly one of the nation’s premier left tackles.