Johnie Kirton

Kyrene de la Colina first graders try to tackle Arizona Ratters' fullback Johnie Kirton who also is an after school teacher at Colina. April 24, 2012. Darryl Webb/AFN

Darryl Webb

His days are as long as they are varied.

From about 7 a.m. he is working out with his teammates, fellow professional athletes. In the afternoon, he is teaching kids about sportsmanship, leadership and how to throw and catch a perfect pass. But it’s all in a day’s work for a man who has seen his fair share already.

Johnie Kirton, 26, was signed to the Arizona Rattlers, a homecoming of sorts for the Washington native who was drafted by the Arena Football League team fresh out of college in 2010.

Last year he broke records as an integral part of the Chicago Rush offense but his team was ultimately eliminated in the playoffs by, guess who, the Rattlers on Aug. 6.

He was picked up by the team two weeks ago and continues his fight to return from an injury and secure a starting role as a full back. He also played linebacker with the Rush.

“I like being here and being with my family,” Kirton said. “My love of the game is still there. I’m playing it to be playing it because I love it.”

Kirton spends life after practice, Monday through Friday, at five different Kyrene schools as an employee of the after-school program, called Road Crew, where he teaches football to elementary school students.

How he combines the two, while being a celebrity figure in the eyes of the kids, is how to relate football terms when his knowledge of the game is so detailed.

“It’s fun but it is a challenge so I just try to find ways to keep their attention and interest,” he said. “Growing up as the oldest of nine children, I was a natural leader just because the other kids looked up to me. That is how I will relate to these kids.”

Kirton attended the University of Washington before he was drafted by the Rattlers. There are 11 games left in the regular season for the Rattlers, who Kirton now claims has “the best two full backs” in the league on the roster.

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