For many collegiate football players, the path to playing for a major program is simple. The most talented prospects are courted by scouts and coaches years ahead of their enrollment dates. Some have literally dozens of scholarship offers by the time they are seniors in high school, and they can pick a school based on their dreams of gridiron stardom. For these athletes, the opportunities seemingly present themselves.
Their journey to SU has not been as easy. In fact, they have fought and clawed their way into a position to play ACC football in 2013.
Both Kirkland and Arciniega excelled at the junior college level. Arciniega finished his 2012 season at Sierra Community College with 87 tackles and 5.5 sacks, while Kirkland helped to lead Butler Community College to a national championship.
The accolades were nice, but the two linebackers wanted more.
They wanted to prove they belonged on the roster of a top-level program. So when they were given the opportunity to play at Syracuse, both jumped at the offer.
For Arciniega, the choice was very easy once he became acquainted with the Syracuse coaches.
“The coaching staff, when I came for my visit, had a lot to do with it,” Arciniega said. “Those early relationships I was able to develop with other players and coaches really hit home.”
Arciniega’s story is particularly interesting. A scholarship athlete at Nevada his freshman year, he suffered a concussion and had his scholarship rescinded. After remaining in Reno for three semesters, he decided junior college was the only option to kick-start his football career.
He admitted that he is still playing with a chip on his shoulder after what happened earlier in his career.
“I feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “Most guys only have one opportunity. Now, I have a second chance and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Although Kirkland’s path was not as tumultuous, he also comes to central New York with something to show. He spent Sunday’s practice with the first-team defense and could be seen making plays all over the field.
Despite joining the team only a few weeks ago, Kirkland, a Kansas native, has already made an impact in the mind of head coach Scott Shafer.
“He plays fast and hard,” said Shafer. “Sometimes, he’ll step the wrong way and still be able to make a play.” Shafer added that Kirkland plays with lots of emotion and he “simply loves to play football.”
Interestingly enough, Kirkland and Arciniega are roommates. At least for Kirkland, their bond has been an added benefit.
“We hang out a lot,” noted the junior. “We kind of have each other’s back when it comes to that.”
Although both explained that adjusting to the speed of the game at this level could be difficult, they are not at all fazed by the challenges ahead.
“That’s how I like it,” Kirkland said. “Having up-tempo practices has helped a lot.”
“Right now, I’m just trying to get the defensive system down as much as possible,” added Arciniega. “That’s my biggest focus right now, and we’ll go from there.”