EVERETT — The Jackson football team is in the middle of a fight to make the postseason, but at halftime of Friday night’s game against Mariner the Timberwolves took time away from that quest to honor one of the finest players to ever don the green and black.
The Timberwolves retired the No. 37 jersey of running back Johnie Kirton, who tragically passed away in May of 2012 at age 26. It is the first number to be retired in the school’s 20-year history.
“Jackson football was not only a big part of Johnie’s life and Johnie was a big part of our life, but Jackson football was a big part of (his) family’s life too,” Jackson head coach Joel Vincent said. “I think it is a big night for everyone.”
Jackson beat Mariner 54-38 in a Wesco 4A South game Friday night.
Vincent said conversations started about retiring the number started last fall, but it still seemed too soon after Kirton’s death. The conversation picked up spring camp and summer and has been in the works since.
Kirton graduated from Jackson in 2004 and is perhaps best known in Snohomish County for his near-record breaking senior season. Kirton scored 34 touchdowns and rushed for 2,665 yards in 2003, coming up just a yard short of the Washington State rushing record. He rushed for 114 yards in his final game, a 12-7 state tournament loss to Lake Washington.
Vincent remembers it was the loss that bothered Kirton, not coming up short of the record.
“Johnie was unique in a lot of ways,” Vincent said. “His ability and the season he put together his senior year were unique obviously. Johnie was just a loveable guy. He was always smiling and always seemed genuinely happy. He was a kid who took great enjoyment on shining the light on other people and not himself.”
Vincent said Kirton and his teammates were part of a group that set lofty goals lofty goals that season.
“Because he was so loveable and charismatic, people just kind of fell in line behind him and they followed him,” Vincent said. “As his coach and the head coach of this program, I will forever be indebted to him and that group for kind of raising the bar and showing the kids at our school that you could play football and win at Jackson High School and have fun while you do it.”
Kirton went on to play football at the University of Washington after graduating from Jackson and had a four-year professional career in arena football following his days as a Husky.
Kirton’s accomplishments on the field were plentiful, but Vincent said just as special was his ability to get along with everyone.
“One day you would come to the cafeteria and he would be sitting with all the guys that were the athletes,” Vincent said. “The next day you would come down and he was at the table with the special needs kids and he was just hanging out and having a good time and being a friend that day during lunch. The next day he would be with a different group. You couldn’t paint him into a specific corner and say he’s just part of that group.
“He really was Jackson High School,” Vincent said. “He kind of embodied all of those different groups and he had a way of bringing people together.”
The actual jersey Kirton wore on the field will be presented to his family, while a duplicate that he never wore will be permanently displayed at the school.
Vincent said he hopes Kirton is remembered by those who see his jersey just as much for who he was as a person as his athletic accomplishments.
“I want them to understand what a great football player he was, but more importantly that you can be a great athlete and you can be a great person,” Vincent said. “He demonstrated that you can be well-rounded and you can choose to be excellent in everything that you do. Johnie kind of embodied that. He took great pride in the way he played football, but I think he just took great pride in being a great person.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.