Johnie Kirton, a tight end and defensive lineman for the University of Washington football program and a co-captain of the 2008 team, died Monday in Santa Clara, CA., at 26.
He was a member of the Arena Football League’s San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League, which announced his death but offered no cause. He was traded to the SaberCats May 9 from Arizona. His body was found at 11 p.m. Monday at his hotel room after his girlfriend could not reach him, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News. A police official was quoted as saying no crime appears to have been committed.
Kirton, 6-foot-3 and 296 pounds, was a star at Everett’s Jackson High School, where he rushed for 2,675 yards.
“I’m just so sad, heartbroken for his parents,” former UW coach Keith Gilbertson, head coach in 2004 when Kirton signed with UW, told the Seattle Times. “I’ve been in a fog all morning thinking about it.”
When Gilbertson was fired and replaced by Tyrone Willingham, Kirton was moved from running back to tight end. He was shifted to the defensive line in 2008 and started three games, making 27 tackles. He was elected by teammates as a co-captain.
Kirton played for the Chicago Rush and Arizona Rattlers during his three seasons in the AFL.
“It is with great shock and sadness that we confirm that Johnie Kirton has passed away,” said owner and head coach Darren Arbet in a team statement. “He was such a great kid, and in the short time he was in San Jose he was such a valued member of our organizations family. Johnie was a great team guy and hard-nosed player.”
The release said Kirton’s memory will be honored with helmet stickers bearing his number, 37, at San Jose’s game against Milwaukee Saturday.