To say that Jimmie Kitchen took an unconventional route to Georgia Tech would be an understatement. To say that he’s thrilled to officially be a member of the Yellow Jackets’ Class of 2011 would be, too.
Kitchen, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman from Lithonia, signed a national letter-of-intent with Tech on Wednesday. He did it exactly 55 weeks after signing a letter-of-intent with Tennessee State in February of 2010.
“Man, it feels great,” Kitchen said Thursday. “I knew I belonged at a big school in D-1. It’s just overwhelming right now to get my second chance.”
In between, Kitchen has been qualified, then not qualified, eligible, then not eligible.
Kitchen actually had already moved into the dorms at Tennessee State last summer and was working out with the team when word came that some of his classwork at Lithonia High School had been flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He was told he’d have to take the classes over. So he packed up his bags and moved back to Atlanta.
Kitchen successfully completed those classes last month and then got official approval of his transcripts from the NCAA shortly after national signing day.
Georgia Tech, along with Ole Miss and several other schools, had gotten word about Kitchen’s imminent availability in January. With his academic hurdles cleared, the Yellow Jackets officially offered this week. Kitchen pounced on the opportunity.
“Actually Ole Miss was after me before Tech,” Kitchen said. “But I got qualified late in the process and everybody had already committed to them. They filled up, so it was too late. If I had gotten cleared earlier I probably would have signed with them. But, in the end, everything worked out for the best. Ain’t no place like home!”
There’s a reason Tech and others were willing to provide Kitchen a second chance. The kid can play, his high school coach says.
“He has a tremendous knack for the football,” Lithonia coach Marcus Jelks said. “He’s a great athlete for his size, very quick, very strong. He definitely helped us. He played center, defensive line, linebacker and special teams for us. He even ran the ball a few times. When Georgia Tech watched the film, they just kind of fell in love with him.”
Big-time college football had always seemed to be Kitchen’s destination. In fact, he had numerous major-college programs pursuing him in the fall of 2009 and was poised to commit to Auburn at that point. But the Tigers, Georgia Tech and the rest of his suitors dropped off after his first test scores were posted.
Tennessee State decided to take a chance on him and signed him in February of 2010. Kitchen continued to work on his college boards and he was able to achieve the NCAA’s eligibility standards that spring. He moved to Nashville that summer with every intention of continuing his football career with the Tigers. Then the NCAA Clearinghouse bomb exploded.
But Kitchen said he never lost hope. After a brief respite to regain his bearings, he resumed both his academic and athletic pursuits. He re-took the classes he needed online and joined the Lithonia football team four times a week for 6 a.m. workouts to stay in shape.
Of course, Kitchen has already heard the cynics who wonder how he’ll be able to handle Georgia Tech’s academic rigors after struggling so hard just meet eligibility requirements.
“I’ve just got to prove them wrong and show that I can do the work,” Kitchen said. “I know I can. I’m going to buckle down, man, no if, ands or buts about that. They already know what I can do on the field. I just have to prove it in the classroom.
“This whole thing has been a very humbling experience to go through, the whole process. But I got through it. Not too many people get to tell this story. So I plan on taking advantage of it.”
Kitchen becomes the 23rd signee in the Jackets’ 2011 class and the only defensive lineman.
“I’ve just got to come in and show them I know how to play and I know I can do that,” Kitchen said. “It’s just a matter of time. I’m not in a hurry. I’ve just got to show them what I can do, then I’ll get some PT.”
By Chip Towers, The College Recruiting Blog