Tuesday November 5, 2013Senior Linebacker Darrin Kitchens: A Good Man First and Foremost
By Jimena Panduro, UF Communications
Darrin Kitchens is a man of many roles. Standing at six-feet, two inches tall, the senior from Homestead recalled the first time that he realized he wanted to become a Florida Gator.
“I would have to go all the way back to ninth grade in high school,” he remembered. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go for school and I remember that all I kept seeing on television was the University of Florida. I wanted to know what was so important about UF. I had seen the Gators winning in football, track and field and basketball so I concluded that their sports were amazing.”
“I also looked at it from an educational aspect and I wanted to go somewhere in a college town with a great support system. I grew up six hours away, south of Miami in Homestead, and the UF alumni down there are well-connected with each other. They were encouraging me, telling me about the school and how everyone stays connected even after they graduate and how the support system is amazing both when you go there and after you graduate. That’s what I was looking for in a school. That’s why I chose to come here.”
Sporting the Orange and Blue, however, wasn’t always a smooth ride for Kitchens.
Back in the final regular-season game of 2011, a scary hit knocked him out of the annual rivalry game between Florida and Florida State. In that moment, more than 90,000 people inside of The Swamp were silenced by the fear of seeing a player lying motionless on the field.
After 10 minutes, Kitchens gave the universal sign of “everything will be alright:” a big thumbs-up as the crowd applauded and cheered in relief.
For Kitchens, moments like this have proven to be a testament to his strong Christian faith, one that he relies upon when the going gets tough, which in part makes him a better man.
“My faith has been one of the key factors to keep me driven because life as a student-athlete isn’t easy,” Kitchens said. “Especially after having a concussion and being knocked out in one of the games. It was my belief in God that kept me going; the faith to know that I would be protected on the field and that I wouldn’t get seriously hurt. This is what has kept me going.”
Now one of the veterans on the team, Kitchens is happy to lend his support and valuable advice to his teammates. He knows that although every journey is different, they all share a common road.
“The role I’ve been trying to take on this year is to make sure the younger guys feel welcome and make sure they feel a part of the team,” he said. “They need to know that there is no process that they have to go through or anything. We all went through the same thing. It’s different from high school, they may be confused, not know what is going on so I just want to make them feel comfortable and welcome here.”
Caring for someone else is no novelty for Kitchens. Two summers ago, he married his best friend and long-time girlfriend, Nathalie.
That moment, one he considers one of the most defining moments of his young life, changed his life completely. He is now a different man, with a different outlook and priorities.
“Getting married has made me more responsible and aware of the decisions and choices that I make,” the Gator linebacker acknowledged. “I know that whatever I choose, it’s not just affecting myself anymore, it is affecting myself and my wife and our future family together.”
Although his role in life may have been altered, Kitchens will never take his career at Florida for granted. Even if the past four years have had their shares of ups and downs, he is happy to have had it at all since he is well aware this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance a very select few student-athletes are afforded the opportunity to experience.
“My career as a player has been good, though it could have gone better,” he reflected. “Nobody has a perfect career. I’m very grateful for it though; I do think it has changed my life. Not many people get the opportunity to come here or play for the Gators so I am very grateful for the opportunity.”
In addition to his time on the gridiron winding down, Kitchens is happy to be leaving Gainesville with something that he never thought he would attain, an accomplishment not in the form of awards or titles but a mere piece of paper which will prove to be much more valuable in the long run — a bachelor’s degree.
“Making it this far is my biggest accomplishment,” he admitted. “Growing up, I had a dream but I didn’t really see it as a reality. I was pushing towards the dream, but you just don’t see too many people from where I’m from making it this far. Even if the NFL is not the next level for me, graduating from college, and even going to college, is a great achievement for me.”
Even though Kitchens has a long list of titles to his name — UF student, Gator linebacker, husband — there is a new one that was acquired a few days ago — father.
Kitchens and his wife welcomed a daughter last week, thus giving him not only a new role in life but yet another new perspective in everything that encompasses who he is as a person and who he wants to become.
“I guess that I’ve been looking at life differently,” Kitchens said. “Life is bigger than just football. Of course I’m going to give football my all, but win, lose or draw, I still have a family to look after and it’s not going to be the end of the world if something goes wrong.”
A newly-appointed family man, above anything else, Kitchens has one thing clear. First and foremost, he wants to become a truly good man.
“I want to raise my daughter in a way that not only I and God will be proud of, but also in a way that other parents will look at my daughter and they will use her behavior and choices to say, ‘that’s how I want my daughter to behave,’” he said.
“I also want to be a good husband - not just providing financially for my wife, but remaining her friend. I always want to remain me. I don’t want to become successful and, as they say, forget the little people. I want to be who I am and stay down to earth and humble because that’s how I feel comfortable.”
With his priorities in order, Kitchens’ career is culminating in the same way it began: full of excitement and full of unknowns.
Except this time it won’t be the excitement of taking the field and hearing the roaring crowd every Saturday at The Swamp, or the anxiousness of not knowing what the upcoming opponent will hit them with next.
This time it will be about changing diapers and the excitement of the little milestones, such as his daughter saying her first word or taking her first steps.
This time, and forever more, it will stop being just about the player or the student. It will be about the husband and father.
It will be about the boy who became a man.
For Darrin Kitchens, that is the most special role of all.