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

Johnie Kirton was back from his injury and working hard to regain a prominent role in the sport he loved to play.

He passed away on May 28, and at 26 years of age it is a hard reminder that life is precious and can be taken away at anytime. From the outpouring of support from his teammates in the days following his death, it is apparent he made a lasting impression. The Arena Football League player and Kyrene School District employee was remembered at a Memorial Service on Thursday afternoon in Santa Clara, Calif.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of death but the San Jose Mercury News reported that Santa Clara police Capt. Phil Cooke said they don’t believe any crime was connected with his death.

Along with putting in long days practicing with his Arizona Rattler teammates before he was traded, Kirton spent afternoons at different Kyrene schools around Ahwatukee Foothills and Tempe. He worked with the kids who were enrolled in the after-school program.

“My love of the game is still there,” Kirton said last month. “I’m playing it because I love it.”

Kirton was the oldest of five children and has a 2-year-old daughter. He was living in Phoenix when he was traded to the San Jose SaberCats. In his last game, a 84-77 win over his old team, the Chicago Rush, Kirton scored three times on five rushes. Before being traded, Kirton said his goal was to earn back a starting fullback spot. As a member of the Rattlers, he was sharing touches, but was the only fullback used in what would be his final game.

“We are in shock around here,” said Rattlers Head Coach Kevin Guy in a statement made by the team. “Johnie was a great young man that had a lot to offer, it’s always difficult in times like these. Our collective prayers are with Johnie’s family.”

Kirton attended the University of Washington before he was drafted by the Rattlers in 2010. He joined the Chicago Rush for the 2011 season and broke several team records.

His talents on and off the field were obvious. He took pride in getting kids to care about the game that he loved to play.

“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.”

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