When Levon Kirkland reflects back on his football career, what he is the proudest of is how he earned it.
Known as one of the greatest players in Clemson’s rich football history, Kirkland earned his way on to Clemson’s Ring of Honor through hard work, dedication and loyalty. That is why he became a consensus All-American at Clemson and then played 11 seasons in the NFL, including nine for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“In my day, I was going against John Johnson. Wayne Simmons, Jesse Hatcher, it was all about competing. It was all about showing your worth, and sometimes you had to wait for your time,” Kirkland said Friday on Off Campus with Mark Packer on ESPNU Radio.
That is not always the case in today’s college football, and that bother’s Kirkland a little bit. These days, if a player comes in and he does not play right away, then he can up and transfer to another school without any consequences.
“I got redshirted my first year. I was okay with that because I knew I was not quite there, and I had to do some development,” Kirkland said. “Unfortunately, we are telling these kids how great they are and then when they get there it is not as flowery or utopia as they thought it would be.
“A lot of times they do not come in there and step in right away and become a super star. It takes a lot of work, and I did not mind that kind of work. As a matter of fact, I welcomed it.”
Kirkland it not insensitive to the fact, in some cases, the situation is not right, or their coach is fired, or the coach moves on to another school. He gets it and understands why some players want to leave, but at the same time, he understands there is something to be said for a young man who sticks it out.
As Kirkland said, he redshirted his freshman year at Clemson and then shared his outside linebacker spot with Johnson, Simmons and Hatcher during his time at Clemson from 1987-’91. However, he was still very productive on a defense filled with NFL starters.
In 1990, he became a consensus All-American on a unit that led the nation in total defense. He was an All-American again in 1991, this time starting on a defense that led the nation in rushing defense.
In 1992, Kirkland was drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Steelers.
“Yeah, I can see, and I worked with kids, and I worked with football players, unfortunately, sometimes they do have that attitude that ‘I am supposed to be starting. Everything is supposed to go my way. And if it does not go my way…’ Then they get in the transfer portal, and they are gone,” he said. “I did not grow up that way. I don’t know if I totally agree with (the transfer portal). I understand it. You are a young man, and you want to play. I get that, but man, I really appreciate the fact that I had to really earn that spot with the Clemson Tigers, and I think that helped me throughout my career.”
For Kirkland, his patience paid off. This past week, it was announced he is a candidate for the College Football Hall of Fame.
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