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In year of long waits, offensive lineman in final push to play in NFL

Kyle Hinton in a Washburn game

From The Ichabod - Fall 2020

From his earliest practices as a freshman on Washburn’s football team, coaches pegged Kyle Hinton as an eventual pro football prospect. The offensive lineman from Peoria, Arizona, with a zero-star rating and little recruiting buzz exceeded the expectations set by Craig Schurig and the Washburn coaching staff.

Hinton made the all-MIAA team and MIAA Academic Honor Roll in each of his four years and was named an All-American three times. His collegiate accomplishments were rewarded with a four-year, $3.37-million contract from the Minnesota Vikings and a $75,000 signing bonus on July 24.

“He’s exceptional,” Schurig said. “He’s an outstanding student, a great teammate and was voted a team captain. He’s got a great work ethic and leadership. All of those things, and he’s a tremendous athlete, so he’s a 10 across the board.”

Hinton, als ’20, has no shortage of positive traits, but the most important this year may be patience. For a player prepared to make a living clearing the way for others, there’s nothing more frustrating than having his path to the NFL blocked by outside forces.

Proving His Worth

Similar to his transition from high school to college, Hinton felt slighted by the lack of interest at the next level. The 6-foot-2, 291-pound tackle wasn’t among the 300-plus prospects invited to March’s NFL Combine, and he used the snub as motivation at a Kansas State University Pro Day.

He impressed scouts with a 4.86-second 40-yard dash, a 34.5-inch vertical jump and 34 reps on the 225-pound bench press, putting to use the strength he accumulated as an All-American discus thrower.

“I wanted to go out there and prove them wrong,” Hinton said. “It gave me a little boost in the process, and I knew I’d do big numbers. After the Pro Day, a lot of scouts came up and talked to me to get my info.”

Just when workout requests started coming in from teams across the league, COVID-19 abruptly closed Hinton’s window to exhibit his skills. Communication continued with the Vikings, among others, but his draft-day fate remained up in the air.

As pick after pick rolled by in April’s draft, Hinton’s chances of being selected dwindled. While watching with friends in Topeka, Hinton heard his name announced with the 253rd pick of the 255-pick draft.

“I watched all the way through,” Hinton said of the seven-round, three-day draft. “Finally getting the call three picks from the end felt really good.”

Catching on Quick

Hinton was the last of Minnesota’s NFL-record 15 picks in the 2020 draft, but he benefitted from a flexibility to play multiple positions and signed a contract before several of the rookies chosen before him.

“The coaches and players will fall in love with him up there,” Schurig said. “He’s exactly what you want in a teammate. If you could draw up the perfect player, it’d be Kyle.”

But before Hinton could begin training camp in Minneapolis, he faced yet another wait. All NFL players must pass two COVID-19 tests before interacting with anyone in the organization, so instead of celebrating his signing with handshakes and hugs, Hinton remained isolated in his hotel room. Alone in unfamiliar territory, Hinton found himself recalling lessons learned in Topeka.

“Washburn really emphasizes working together to accomplish a goal, and not being afraid to ask for help when you do have a problem,” Hinton said. “That will always stick with me. Before, I didn’t ask for help much, but at Washburn, it’s encouraged. They make it easy for you, and you see the real value in that.”

It didn’t take long for fellow Ichabods to lend support. Corey Ballentine, a sixth-round pick by the New York Giants in 2019, texted a congratulatory message after the draft, and Brian Folkerts, an offensive lineman who played for the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams before joining the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks this spring, shared valuable advice.

“Brian helped me out through the whole process,” Hinton said. “He told me what teams want to hear, and what they want to see on the offensive line, scheme-wise. I’ve definitely kept in close contact with him.”

Like everything else in the pre-COVID era, it feels like a lifetime ago that Hinton was catching his first and only touchdown pass in his final collegiate game. The months since have been all preparation, and little play, but the jubilation teammates shared after Hinton’s 8-yard score in November illustrate the joy he can bring, and receive, when it’s finally time to get back on the field.

“I loved walking out to home games, high-fiving everybody on the way out and running down the hill,” Hinton said of his time at Washburn. “I’m just excited to play football again at this point, honestly. It feels like a century since I put pads on.”

Spring 2020 Alumni Mag

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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