Flashes’ Kitchen prepares to fulfill professional dream

Senior defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen works out in the fieldhouse on March 4. The Youngstown native is a top prospect for the NFL draft. Photo by Brian Smith.

Nick Shook

One Kent State standout is training relentlessly in preparation for April’s NFL Draft, with hopes of hearing his name called among the 253 selections made during the three-day event.

Senior defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen lifts weights three days per week, and spends the other two working on conditioning and agility. Full-body motion is an important part of Kitchen’s training regimen.

“We’re not doing a whole ton of volume with him right now, but it’s extremely specific,” said Doug Davis, Kent State strength and conditioning coach. “We want to make sure he stays in shape on Tuesday with some general conditioning things, and then on Thursday we’re working quickness and a lot of footwork.”

Kitchen finished his senior season with 13 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. His numbers may not shock scouts, but his true value in the NFL comes with his size. At 6-foot-3, 335 pounds, Kitchen is a big body that can successfully take on multiple blockers and clog running lanes.

Kitchen completed his pro day workout in March at Kent State in front of scouts from the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. Kitchen completed the bench press, the 40-yard dash and agility drills. He posted impressive numbers, benching 225 pounds 35 times and completing the 40-yard dash in 5.34 seconds.

But his workout plans weren’t the only things that changed during his preparation. With the help of Davis, Kitchen also paid closer attention to his diet, making sure he was eating the right foods that would allow him to perform at his highest capabilities.

“[Kitchen’s diet is] just a little cleaner,” Davis said. “He’s always eaten a lot, because he’s a big guy and he needs those calories. But it’s just the smart choices. Let’s take you grocery shopping, let’s substitute B for A. Eliminating the fried foods — not that he ate a lot to begin with, but when you’re competing for a pro day, you’ve got to be perfect.”

Kitchen has taken the NFL standard Wonderlic aptitude test and interviewed with multiple teams. Due to pre-draft rules, he could not reveal which teams he has been in contact with, but Davis estimated it to be “maybe half a dozen to a dozen different teams.”

Davis has adjusted Kitchen’s post-pro-day workout to make sure he is prepared to demonstrate his physical abilities whenever called upon by an NFL team.

“He’s a fast-twitch type of a 335-pounder, which is rare,” Davis said. “We’re doing a lot of quick, explosive type things with him, because when he goes to those other places to work out, they’re going to want to see him do that over and over again.”

CBSSports.com ranks Kitchen as the 36th defensive tackle in the 2012 draft class, but those associated with Kitchen believe he offers a unique set of skills that can be beneficial to an NFL franchise.

“What people don’t understand is a guy that size that can move like that is, in my mind, a specialist,” Davis said. “There’s maybe three, four, five of him across the country that are 330-plus that can move extremely well. I think from that standpoint, his odds are pretty good.”

With the pro day complete and draft day just a few weeks away, Kitchen is ready to join his family members in his home and watch the events unfold, all the while eagerly awaiting a phone call from an NFL general manager.

“I’m more excited to see where I end up at,” Kitchen said.

“He’s a kid who has done everything we’ve asked of him here,” Davis said. “He went to [a] great high school in Youngstown, he’s a kid who is extremely passionate about the game, who likes the game, who enjoys the process. If this is going to be his world, he better love to do it. He’s an extremely genuine guy. He’s a little quieter than you would think, but, like most football players, when you put the helmet on it’s a different mentality.”

“I always had this goal in my head that I always wanted to play in the NFL when I was a kid,” Kitchen said. “It would just be a dream come true.”

“It’s outstanding to see a kid obviously fulfill his dream,” Davis said. “It’s great. A lot of these kids, Ish especially, have been playing since they were [little]. For him to have an opportunity to do something that he loves as a career — [it] doesn’t get much better than that.”

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] and @NickShookDKS.