Navy's Kirkland, 24, not bad for 'old man'


ANNAPOLIS -- They call him "Grandpa," "Old Man" or "Geritol Man." Before running a play, the defensive line has what it calls its "Old Man check" to be sure the fellow is still breathing.

Andy Kirkland -- Geritol Man -- turned 24 today.

Navy's 232-pound senior nose guard arrived at his present station by a circuitous route. From high school outside Pittsburgh, in Adamsburg, he enlisted in the Navy, spending 2 1/2 years in the fleet before enrolling at the academy.

"The money situation wasn't too good when I was coming out of high school," said Kirkland, who was named Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I-A defensive player of the week after making 16 tackles -- 12 unassisted -- in Saturday's 24-7 loss to Air Force.

"My two sisters were in college at the time and it would have been a burden on my parents if I had gone, too. I was a 180-pound tight end and didn't have any decent scholarship offers. I figured this was the best way -- go in the Navy and make some money, then go to college."

Since spending his first year on the plebe/JV team as a walk-on, Kirkland has been a fixture in the defensive line. Although plagued by a chronically sore back, he started 18 games, most of them at nose guard, in his sophomore and junior years.

This year, although his main job is to tie up offensive linemen so linebackers can make the tackles, Kirkland leads the squad in unassisted tackles (39) and is second to linebacker Bill Bowling in total tackles, 50-49.

"Super quickness sums up Kirkland," said coach George Chaump. "He's the big reason our defense has been so good against the run."

Much of the time, Kirkland is double-teamed. That was especially true at Air Force.

"Wishbone teams like Air Force double-team the nose guard 65 percent of the time," said Jake Gonos, Navy's defensive line coach. "Despite that, Kirkland dominated play from tackle to tackle."

"I'm supposed to fill holes so linebackers can make the tackles," Kirkland said. "But that can get old, boring. I get the urge to make tackles. It was an emotional game, the last crack at Air Force for us seniors, and things just happened."

Kirkland is blessed with long arms, maybe three or four inches longer, he estimates, than those of most guys his size.

"They enable him to keep blockers off him," Gonos said. "They can't lock him up. I haven't seen a better nose guard this year than Andy."

Before the season, Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said he knew Navy had a good nose guard, but darned if he could think of his name.

"He's a real good one," DeBerry said. "What's his name? Kinard?"

No, Kirkland. The Geritol Man.

* Navy quarterback Alton Grizzard, who missed the Air Force game with a bruised lung, will play Saturday against Akron at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. It was only the third game in four years he missed because of injury. Grizzard may share time with Gary McIntosh, who filled in last week.

"We're in a quandary," Chaump said. "We'll see if the week-and-a-half layoff hurt Alton. We may alternate them by quarters or even series."

* Fans are urged to arrive early for the 1:30 kickoff because of Powerboat Show traffic and construction on Route 50.

* The Navy-Akron game was arranged by Middies athletic director Jack Lengyel, a native of Akron and a 1957 graduate of the university. As a player, Lengyel rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries and caught 11 passes for 214 yards over three seasons.

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