The NFL Draft has arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the Saint Ignatius community awaits to hear the commissioner, Roger Goodell, announce another former Wildcat into the league. Offensive Tackle, Darian Kinnard ‘18, awaits to see which NFL team will pick him in this year’s draft. Kinnard was a two-year starter at Saint Ignatius and a three-year starter at the University of Kentucky. Kinnard was the best-rated tackle in the SEC in 2021, with a Pro Football Focus grade of 91.9.
With a Citrus Bowl victory, Kinnard finished his college career the same way he started. In his freshman year, #16 Kentucky defeated #13 Penn State 27-24 and in his final collegiate start in 2022, #25 Kentucky took down #17 Iowa 20-17 as Kinnard ended his time in Kentucky with a victory. Since that final game, Kinnard’s focus has switched to the NFL Draft after declaring in January.
“It has been pretty crazy, going to college and doing the daily grind of waking up early, going to work out, going to class, right to practice and finishing the day with homework, it was a lot of work, but doing that process with your brothers makes it easier,” explains Kinnard. “Having a strong bond with my teammates was special and winning a bowl game my senior year was a full-circle moment for me, looking back at my personal and team achievements.”
The former Wildcat stand-out stepped on the campus of Saint Ignatius in the summer of 2015 as a transfer from Tennessee. “He was one of the tallest human beings to come through but had some of the best footwork of any athlete, regardless of height,” says Director of Strength and Conditioning Anthony Rubino. “On a funny note, one of the sweatiest student-athletes I have ever seen.”
“Coming from Tennessee, I was playing freshman football as a guard at Dobyns-Bennett (TN), my family moved to Cleveland and I decided to come to Saint Ignatius to play with and against the best; I was a back-up as a guard, but moved to tackle my junior and senior year,” Kinnard explains. “It’s crazy looking back on it through the whole moving process; the only thing that didn’t change was that I was able to play football.”
Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle ‘69 noticed that Kinnard would stand out when he came to Saint Ignatius and not just because of his impressive size and strength. “He had a lot of work to do; he was a heavy guy and needed to distribute it; one of the neat things was his work ethic,” says Kyle. “I give him so much credit for putting the work in and buying into our program.”
In 2015, Saint Ignatius missed the postseason for just the second time since 1988. The following season, the Wildcats came back with a vengeance and anchoring the offensive line was tackle Kinnard. The Cats would go 9-1 in the regular season in 2016 and appear in the Division I State Championship game at Ohio Stadium vs. Jesuit rival, the St. Xavier Bombers. The Wildcats fell to the Bombers 27-20 in double overtime in an instant classic.
“All I remember was a heartbreaking loss in overtime,” Kinnard says. “Our boys showed out in the stands, we battled, but we fell short. It was a special two years and I have great memories and love that I played football for Saint Ignatius.”
Kinnard was also a member of the 2016 State Champion Track and Field team, where he would compete in shot put and discus. “He started doing Track and Field his sophomore year to stay in condition,” explains Kyle. “He finished second in the state in the shot put and third in the state in discus; he got to be that good in three seasons; it shows him buying into the work ethic.”
After his time at Saint Ignatius, Kinnard would get a Division I scholarship at the University of Kentucky. Kinnard would play in 46 career games, starting in 39 consecutive games, accumulating many honors, such as First-Team All-SEC in his junior and senior years and being named First-Team All-American in his senior year. Kinnard has never strayed away from adversity and playing Division I football was no different.
“Off the rip, the biggest challenge was the size, strength, and speed. Some are smaller than you in high school, but when you are in college, almost everyone is as big as you,” says Kinnard. “Playing in front of a college crowd was a culture shock too; there were so many people and it got ridiculously loud.”
Being a member of the SEC, Kinnard played in front of some raucous crowds during his time at Kentucky. “The three stadiums that stuck out to me were Florida, Texas A&M and Georgia,” Kinnard says. “Georgia has a tradition where they flash the lights whenever they score a touchdown; those stadiums were surreal and fun to play in.”
Of course, there were significant moments at Kentucky that shaped Kinnard into the man he is today. In 2020, Kentucky lost long-time offensive line coach John Schlarman to cancer. Coach Schlarman was a significant mentor to Kinnard at Kentucky. A teammate and friend of Kinnard, Chris Oats, suffered a stroke in 2020 that took him off the field.
“Both have had a big impact on my life, from not what they said, but their actions in how they treated me,” explains Kinnard. “Those moments shaped me into who I am today; it changed how I think and my approach to football and how I treat my friends and family.”
Kinnard played with and against some of the best players in college football. In Kinnard’s freshman season, he was teammates with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Josh Allen. Allen is currently a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. “Allen was the biggest wake-up call I got when I came to Kentucky,” Kinnard explains. “Montez Sweat, from Mississippi State, was a monster my freshman year, too, his arms were as big as my legs and that is saying something. I went against Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina; he was pure muscle.”
With the 2022 NFL Draft rapidly approaching, the outside noise can become loud for NFL prospects. For Kinnard, he has kept his approach simple, avoiding social media before the draft. “That was the biggest key for me, getting off Twitter and social media,” says Kinnard. ‘I put my head down and continued to work. You can get dragged into all the noise, but staying off social media has helped me the most.”
“He is super athletic; NFL teams have noted that Darian needs to work on his hand placement, but he is a mauler when he locks on to you and moves you five yards back,” explains Kyle. “There are things to work on, but he has the size and tenacity. He is a smart kid, Saint Ignatius did him well and he will do great things in the NFL.”
There are plenty of positives in Kinnard’s game; he is arguably one of the best run-blocking tackles in this year’s draft. With his 6’5” 322 pound frame, Kinnard carries himself in a way that NFL teams will have an interest in bringing him in on the offensive line. When the tough yards are needed, Kinnard will be the one a team relies on in the trenches.
“He moves so well, especially with his size, his footwork is perfect and he loves his craft,” explains Rubino. “Offensive line is a unique position and doesn’t get enough credit for how athletic those guys are, but there is a unique nature and Darian is a very nurturing and caring person that being an offensive lineman fits him.”
No matter which team decides to draft Kinnard, they will get an athlete willing to work hard from day one to make a lasting impact with his future team. “I will focus and learn what I can at the next level,” Kinnard says. “I am going to adapt to the situation and find a spot where I will shine and continue to make improvements.”
The 2022 NFL Draft is set to kick off with round one on Thursday, April 28, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rounds two and three will be Friday night and four through seven will come on Saturday. “In college, it was day by day for me; that is how the process has been for me, taking care of what I need done, working out and visiting with teams,” explains Kinnard. “The big day is coming soon; it is exciting, but I can’t get anxious, and I will be excited when the day comes.”
After this weekend, Kinnard will join three other alumni from Saint Ignatius High School currently in the NFL. Super Bowl champion Brian Hoyer ’04 is a member of the New England Patriots, Dre’Mont Jones ’15 is a defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos and Liam Eichenberg ‘16 is an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins.
Kinnard, his family, his Alma Mater and his city can’t wait to hear NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell say his name this weekend.