This has been a dream season for Gators tight end Kirk Kirkpatrick. After three years of obscurity, the senior finally has gotten the opportunity to show what he can do. And with first-year Florida coach Steve Spurrier's help, he's emerged as one of the top tight ends ever to play for the Gators.
Early this season, Spurrier called Kirkpatrick "as fine a tight end as I've ever coached."
He lived up to that billing Saturday, catching two touchdown passes in the Gators' 59-0 win over Akron at Florida Field.
The first came in the first quarter, when quarterback Shane Matthews tossed the ball 10 yards to Kirkpatrick in the end zone.
The second was on a play that the Gators had practiced throughout the season, and Spurrier finally decided to use in the second quarter. Matthews threw a lateral to wide receiver Terence Barber, who vaulted a 53-yard touchdown pass to Kirkpatrick.
Those touchdowns gave Kirkpatrick five for the year, a school season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end. Until Saturday, Chris Faulkner had held the record of four since 1979.
And with his five receptions for 122 yards, Kirkpatrick became only the fourth Florida tight end to catch 30 passes in a season.
"He had a fine game, especially because the defense was pretty much set up for him," Spurrier said. "A guy pretty much covered him man-to-man the whole time."
Kirkpatrick always knew he had potential, but for three years, he played in obscurity. Teammate Emmitt Smith and the running game controlled the ball most of the time, leaving the tight end with little more to do than block.
During 1987-89, Kirkpatrick had only 27 receptions for 336 yards and no touchdowns.
Things have changed, though. And that was most apparent at Friday night's Gator Growl, when Kirkpatrick got the biggest ovation when the seniors were introduced.
The fans' recognition and a good game helped fade the disappointment of last week's loss to Tennessee.
"I thought my stats were good, but I know I can play a lot better," Kirkpatrick said. "But it feels nice to come back and have a good game."
Spurrier didn't agree with Kirkpatrick's humble comments. He was especially impressed with how quickly Kirkpatrick got to the end zone on the second touchdown.
And Barber said he was amazed at how successful the play was.
"I knew it was there," said Barber, whose pass was only the second in his career at Florida. "Kirk has the best hands on the team. He turned on the juice.
"I expected him to get only 20 yards on it. I turned around and he was in the end zone."
Year Rec Yds TDs
1990 30 461 5
1989 18 245 0
1988 8 84 0
1987 1 7 0