- June 26, 2019
Dr. Phillips senior and four-star offensive tackle Payton Kirkland announced recently his commitment to the University of Texas at Austin.
“Everything feels right there,” he said. “Those people were there for me at a time that I really wasn’t sure about everything, and I was going through a couple of things and had a couple of battles to face. … People often ask me why (I committed) without taking a visit, and I answer all the time, ‘It’s because the people make the place; the place doesn’t make the people.”
“I feel proud of him for making this decision — especially being a kid that lives in Florida and having all the Florida schools at his disposal — and still making a decision for himself,” his mother, Veronica Kirkland, said. “He consulted with God, and I can’t go against that.”
After one more season left of high school ball, Payton Kirkland will be joining the Texas Longhorns in 2023. He will be teaming up with head coach Steve Sarkisian and the football coaching staff, as well as with quarterback Arch Manning come next fall.
“He has a relationship already with (Arch Manning),” Veronica Kirkland said. “They already have a friendship that they have been cultivating.”
A NATURAL FIT
Surprisingly enough, the 6-foot-7 left tackle joined the world of football only three years ago — at the beginning of his freshman year of high school — when his mother told him to find something to do after school instead of spending the afternoons at home. Before that, he played basketball for 10 years with the E1T1 travel basketball team.
“It kind of came naturally to me, playing offensive line, with the right teaching and athleticism, and the skills that I’ve learned, everything ended up working itself out,” he said. “Football is great; I love the sport. It’s violent, but I feel like I’m good for it. It’s a game that offers many opportunities and many connections, and it can take you very far in this life.”
Payton Kirkland played his first season with the West Orange Warriors, but for personal reasons decided to continue his athletic and academic journeys in the house of the Dr. Phillips Panthers.
“I feel like the coaches and the men (who) are around the program — they definitely put emphasis on making sure you are growing through high school rather than just being a good football player,” he said. “They want to make sure you are growing on and off the field. They have certain conversations with you daily; they are great men to look up to, great leaders and great examples. … They really do guide us.”
After his first football season as a freshman, during his first semester at Dr. Phillips High, Payton Kirkland had already received 40 offers from different colleges throughout the country.
“That’s when wheels started turning, thoughts started turning a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think I started (seeing football seriously as an opportunity) until right before my sophomore season. I had 40 offers. That’s when I went, ‘Oh, I think I may be good at this.’”
Ultimately, Payton Kirkland received 80 college offers, the first being from Arizona State University.
BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
Throughout his three years playing football, Payton Kirkland has developed his own playing style, which comes from learning how the defense lineman operates.
“I’ve kind of implemented playing by thinking like a defense lineman but playing as an offense lineman,” he said. “I’m going against defense linemen (on the field), and to be able to understand them, you have to understand how to beat them. That’s how I train. I train defense lineman, and I train offense lineman, because … to understand how to stop the defense alignment, you have to understand exactly what they are doing and exactly what they are looking for.
“It took me a few months,” he said. “It’s a slow process, but once it hits, it’s kind of a moment of realization of, ‘It was so obvious, but you just didn’t get it.’”
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams has become Payton Kirkland’s role model, not only on the field but also off the field.
“Because of his fight on the field and off the field as well,” he said. “(Williams) battled cancer, and he came back and still is the best player in the NFL, in my opinion— statistically, as well. And he’s a businessman. He has multiple sources of income. Football is not his main source of income. Football is just what he does, not what he is.”
At 340 pounds and with a current wingspan of 7 feet, 1 inch, Payton Kirkland currently is working on his explosiveness, mental toughness, leadership and the little things outside the field — because “those add up to life, in general.”
Quickness also is on the list. To work on this, he trains with training coach Tony Ponton. They go over footwork exercises, sprints and more.
“Quickness is not just stretching and working the smaller muscles (but also) how much force you put into the ground,” Payton Kirkland said.
Mental toughness — above all the other aspects of his play — is something that only comes through trials and tribulations.
“I’ve faced a lot of battles that have shown me a few things here and there,” he said. “I don’t look like what I’ve been through; I’ll say that. Me and my mom have gone through things together. … I’ve watched her make her way out of no way time and time again. I don’t know if she remembers, but I made her a promise that we won’t have to go through that again. … She’s my hero.”
Currently, Payton Kirkland only lives with his mother in Florida. However, he has two sisters who live in Chicago — Taylor Cook and Bobbie Woods.
Payton Kirkland has many dreams he is looking forward to fulfilling during college and beyond.
He still is deciding on his major. His option include broadcast journalism and engineering.
He also hopes to graduate high school this December — a semester early. He has his sights set on some lofty collegiate goals, too — a national championship, competing in college football, winning the Joe Moore Award (given to the most outstanding offensive line unit), the Outland Trophy, the Heisman Trophy and the title of All-American.
“That’s not the goal; that’s a milestone,” he said. “Everything else is a stepping stone. Football isn’t the goal. You have to use football, not let football use you.”
Outside of football, Payton Kirkland would like to become involved in real estate and own about 20 Starbucks across Florida.
One of his secret abilities his mom initially taught him — Payton Kirkland is an excellent cook.
“I don’t have a favorite thing to cook, because it takes so much (time),” he said. “But if you put something in front of me and you tell me what you want, I’ll make it.”
A curious fact about Payton Kirkland? He is not finished growing.
“I’ve grown steadily every year; I’ve never hit a growth spurt before,” he said. “I’ve been growing a half-inch to an inch every year. I came into high school at 6-foot-3, and I’ve grown an inch every year (since), I was supposed to be 6-foot-10.”
His uncle, Perry Harrington, played in the NFL as a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals.
One last thing on his goals list — and this one he has written down: “I will be the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL draft of 2026.”