College Football: Kitchens bringing heat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Catawba outside linebacker Kyle Kitchens is a 19-year-old with a 29-year-old head.
“He’s a throwback guy,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “He loves the game, studies the game and understands all the concepts of playing linebacker. He can adapt to situations well.”
While a lot of things went wrong during Catawba’s 44-13 loss to West Georgia on Saturday, Kitchens wasn’t one of them.
“I was a little nervous when the game started, but then I calmed down and settled down,” the sophomore said. “I played with some confidence.”
Kitchens had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery before the first quarter was over, with both turnovers halting West Georgia penetrations inside the Catawba 30-yard line.
“It’s not like I got any big hits,” Kitchens explained. “They were just carrying the ball away from their bodies, and we were able to strip ball carriers and knock balls loose.”
In the second quarter, Kitchens had a five-yard sack and blew up a running play for a four-yard loss. Then he tacked on another fumble recovery in the fourth quarter to complete quite an opening day.
Had Catawba fared better as a team, Kitchens would have been a strong candidate for South Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
“Kyle is a game-day player,” said teammate R.J. Beaty, a backup linebacker and special teams standout. “The coaches have to push him sometimes in practice, but when Saturday comes, he’s one of those guys you know you can count on. Kyle shows up when it counts.”
Kitchens is from Decatur, Ga., and was a regular for football and monster truck events at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. His second-best prep sport was lacrosse, and he also played high school basketball.
“I thought about track,” Kitchens said with a smile. “But there’s too much running.”
Kitchens played in a tough high school football league against elite players who signed with SEC schools. He was named all-region by the Atlanta Constitution and made the Associated Press’ All-State team.
Kitchens had offers from D-I schools Arkansas State and South Alabama and had never heard of Catawba until late in the recruiting process.
“I think my high school coach sent my film to every D-II school,” Kitchens said. “Catawba was the first one that came to us.”
After viewing film of Kitchens, Walker dispatched assistant coach Chris Collins to take an up-close look. Collins reported that Kitchens fit the mold the Indians were looking for at outside linebacker — rangy (6-foot-2), lean (205 pounds) and fast (4.6 in the 40).
Kitchens’ mother drove him to Salisbury to check out the Catawba campus. The small-town setting was a major change from Atlanta, but Kitchens officially became an Indian on national signing day in 2014.
“I liked Catawba as soon as I saw it,” Kitchens said.
Collins has moved on to Appalachian State, but Kitchens remains a fixture with the Indians.
Last fall, as linebacker personnel losses and injuries piled up, Kitchens was tossed into the fire as a true freshman. He’d been primarily a pass-rusher in high school, but he received on-the-job training as he learned pass coverage.
“He grew every game,” Walker said. “He’s a pleasure to coach.”
Kitchens responded to his early opportunity to compete with 49 tackles (fifth on the team), 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. His freshman season included game-changing plays against Wingate, Brevard, UNC Pembroke, North Greenville and Carson-Newman.
Kitchens made such a strong impression on South Atlantic Conference coaches that he was voted to the first team All-SAC squad prior to this season.
“It’s a lot of pressure, really, when people are expecting big things from you,” Kitchens said. “I’m just going to try to enjoy the season.”
On opening day, Kitchens made that All-SAC preseason nod look accurate.
Kitchens will be one of the leaders for Catawba’s defense when the Indians (0-1) travel to Davidson (0-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“We’re looking to improve in all areas,” Kitchens said.