By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Traishawn Patrick never got to meet Johnie Kirton. He never even got to watch the former Jackson High School star play, except on film.
And Patrick — like Kirton, he was a bruising running back at Jackson — wants to make one thing clear: he is no Johnie Kirton.
“Obviously,” Patrick said this week. “I mean, he was Johnie Kirton.”
And yet when Patrick dons a No. 37 jersey in Saturday’s East-West All-Star game at Everett Memorial Stadium, perhaps as the last Jackson player to ever wear that number, he will be doing it in Kirton’s honor.
“I didn’t grow up around him, but I’ve heard the stories and seen the film,” Patrick said this week. “It’s an honor to wear his number.”
Kirton, who was inarguably the greatest running back in Jackson High history, was tragically taken from the world too early when his body was found in a San Jose hotel room 41/2 weeks ago. Results of an autopsy have still not been made available, but police have said that foul play was not involved in the 26-year-old’s death.
Patrick has drawn comparisons to Kirton because of a similar running style and a thick, punishing body that is reminiscent but more compact — he’s generously listed at 5-foot-10, as compared to the 6-3 Kirton — than the former Timberwolves star.
While Jackson coach Joel Vincent contends that Patrick was issued Kirton’s same jersey number by pure coincidence, the similarities are easy to spot. Patrick is a sort of Kirton Light, with the same bruising, north-south running style on a more compact frame.
Vincent, who hopes to be at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, said seeing Patrick in the No. 37 jersey one final time might bring out some emotions.
“I’m sure there will be,” Vincent said. “I have Johnie’s jersey in my office right now, and I’m contemplating what we want to do with it, whether we want to retire it — and, if so, where to display it.
“So, yeah, watching a guy running around in the No. 37 jersey will have some meaning for me.”
Wearing the number one final time will also have meaning for Patrick, who turned down an offer to play football at College of the Siskiyous in California because he intends to play baseball at Bellevue Community College. Patrick has considered Kirton a bit of an idol since finding out that he wore the same number.
“I just know that sophomore year, when I was wearing it, the coaches were like: ‘You know whose number that is, right?’” Patrick said this week. “He’s a legend.”
Although Patrick never got to meet Kirton, he said he was affected by the news of his unexpected passing
“It was horrible,” Patrick said this week. “It was tragic. I was devastated. It wasn’t good news. No one wants to hear that, especially being from where he’s from.”
Vincent took the news even harder, having coached Kirton in high school. While Kirton’s production — he fell one yard short of the all-time state rushing record as a senior — is unparalleled, Vincent said there are obvious similarities in Patrick’s game.
“There are things that come to mind right off the bat,” Vincent said. “They’re both big backs for the high school level, they both have good feet and vision. The big difference is that Johnie was 6-3, while Traishawn is all of 5-10.”
If practices are any indication, Patrick should have plenty of chances to carry the ball in his final game on the gridiron. The 225-pound bruiser has proven to be a good body-blow punch for the spread offense the West team will feature on Saturday afternoon.
He’s excited for the opportunity to play football one last time. And he could be doing it in a uniform number that no Jackson player will ever wear again.