Grad transfer Kenneth Kirby brings high ambitions to Georgia Tech

Norfolk State offensive tackle Kenneth Kirby announced his decision to transfer to Georgia Tech on Feb. 26, 2021. (Nick Sutton/Kinetic Stills)
Norfolk State offensive tackle Kenneth Kirby announced his decision to transfer to Georgia Tech on Feb. 26, 2021. (Nick Sutton/Kinetic Stills)

Credit: Mitesh Raval

Credit: Mitesh Raval

Kenneth Kirby is coming to Georgia Tech with an NFL body, NFL ambition and a healthy dose of confidence.

After the offensive tackle declared his intent in February to leave Norfolk State for Tech as a graduate transfer, he is ready to prove himself on a much bigger stage.

“I feel like it’s a test that I’m ready for,” Kirby said. “To me, I don’t think there’s a huge gap between guys in FCS and FBS.”

Kirby has proved himself at the FCS level. At Norfolk State, he was a three-year starter and a two-time All-MEAC selection. But, with a shot at the NFL in mind, he decided to use his last season of eligibility at the highest level of play.

“Really, my goal was to go to a Power 5 school and perform there because for me at my position, it makes a big difference,” Kirby told the AJC. “So that’s really the main goal in all of this, to get my draft grade as high as possible.”

Kirby, who is 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, shows quick feet and a strong punch in pass protection and power in his run blocking. He describes his style as “aggressive but smart” and said he takes pride in finishing plays through the whistle and “really just making people hate you.”

After he graduates from Norfolk State in May, he’ll join an offensive tackle group that figures to be competitive. While Zach Quinney, a three-year starter at left tackle, elected to forego his remaining eligibility to begin his professional work career, starting right tackle Jordan Williams returns. Tackle Devin Cochran, who started 32 games in three seasons at Vanderbilt, has arrived through the transfer portal. Kirby plans to have a spot in the lineup.

“There’s competition everywhere, but I wouldn’t make this decision if I didn’t think I was going to start,” he said.

Coming out of high school in Newport News, Va., Kirby was recruited by Virginia Tech, he said, but was an academic non-qualifier. He enrolled at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy for a post-graduate year, but then the retirement of Hokies coach Frank Beamer turned over the coaching staff. But one of the Virginia Tech coaches who had recruited him, Cornell Brown, landed at Norfolk State and brought him there, Kirby said.

His coach at Fork Union, Frank Arritt, described Kirby as high-character and a class act. He had particular praise for his ability to understand and read defenses at tackle.

“He’s not a loud-spoken kid,” Arritt said. “He was more of a guy that studied his films, studied his techniques and how to get better. That’s what he did. He just got better every day.”

At Norfolk State, Kirby was a starter at left tackle from his freshman season on. He earned All-MEAC third-team honors as a sophomore and made the first team as a junior.

Kirby’s performance, particularly against FBS teams Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina in 2019, planted a seed in his mind to transfer and compete against stronger competition to showcase his ability to the NFL. (Among his Old Dominion opponents was defensive end Keion White, who also transferred to Tech this offseason. White had a half tackle for loss and two tackles total in the game.)

Originally, Kirby’s plan was to play for Norfolk State this spring, as the team had created a spring schedule in response to COVID-19, and then leave as a grad transfer with the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA. However, Norfolk State canceled its spring season Feb. 8, a decision that pushed Kirby to go ahead and pursue his plan. He announced his decision to go into the transfer portal Feb. 17.

He said he heard quickly from Tech defensive analyst Anthony Parker, who was hired by coach Geoff Collins in 2019 after three seasons coaching the offensive line (including Kirby) at Norfolk State. That led to communication with offensive-line coach Brent Key and Collins. Parker’s involvement was critical, given Kirby’s relationship and trust in him.

“He just said, ‘Come in and do it 100%,’” Kirby said. “‘If you’re going to leave, make sure where you’re going to, make sure you bring that leader mentality, that physical mentality.’ Everything I was doing there (at Norfolk State), I have to do the same plus some. That was his main thing. He just said he knows what I can do and he thinks that’ll be fine and a good fit there. I trust him.”

Kirby heard from a number of power-conference schools, ultimately picking Tech over Maryland and Baylor.

Dating to last year, Kirby said that he has been focused on building strength.

“That’s the only thing I had to worry about, was lifting,” he said.

He trained with a CrossFit instructor, Doug Whitaker, in Virginia.

“When I had him, I felt like he needed to get stronger in order to get to the next level,” Whitaker said. “He still has room to improve. He worked hard through the whole program. Very coachable.”

The trio of Williams, Cochran and Kirby gives Key a solid group to work with at tackle as the Jackets endeavor to upgrade the offensive line, which often was breached in pass protection, a contributing factor to Tech completing 53.7% of its passes last season, third lowest among power-conference schools. Williams is a returning starter and Cochran started 32 games at Vanderbilt before transferring. Seeking the NFL, Kirby is ready for the challenge.

“I’m more of, I’d say, a reserved person,” he said. “I’m not going to talk the whole game. I’m going to play and let that do its talking.”

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