If you haven’t yet heard that Hillsdale senior Kirk Putnam III was named a Division 5 First Team All-State defensive lineman by the Detroit Free Press, don’t expect the modest Hornets star to tell you anytime soon.
You see, Putnam has a way of surprising even himself, and he lives for leading his friends in the trenches, not earning accolades he’s not expecting.
But coaches and educated observers know all too well that Putnam has an uncanny ability to make the right plays almost every time, no matter what position he’s playing — and that’s why he was named First Team All Conference, First Team All County by the HDN, First Team by the Jackson Citizen Patriot, and of course, team MVP by his teammates.
For some reason though, the honors seem to be unforeseen for a coaches son who is so popular at HHS that he was named the 2009 Homecoming king.
“I got the call from coach (Marc) Lem(erand), and I was like ‘I’m All-State?’ I didn’t really think I would be, because I just didn’t really know how it worked for linemen. I didn’t know because we didn’t go very far in the playoffs,” Putnam said. “He told me that it was voted on by coaches and people around the state, so that really is an honor to have coaches’ say (I) worked my butt off and I was really surprised.”
He said it took him a few days to digest the fact he might just be one of the best in the state, but that’s how he has always viewed personal success.
When he was a sophomore at team camp in Battle Creek he gave himself plenty of the ‘Who, me?’ treatment when Lemerand announced he was pulling him up to varsity for the 2007 campaign.
And after three years of being a difference maker he’s still a team-first kind of guy who said being named the Hornets MVP might be his most proud accomplishment yet.
“It really made me think like my team needed me, because I was the MVP as a lineman. That was really cool, it showed I had made a difference on the team, on offense and defense,” he said. “They knew I could make a difference on the team. The first three games I was playing defensive end and we kind of needed some people inside…they switched me to defensive tackle the first series of the Stockbridge game, and that worked out great because Brock (Estel) was really fast on the edge.”
Going from end to tackle was no big deal for somebody who played all five offensive line spots during his career and was one of the best longsnappers the program has ever had, according to Lemerand.
“He did whatever it took, whether it was play offensive line, defensive line, he played a little bit of a power back type thing, he played tight end — whatever we asked him to do. He was our long snapper — whatever needed to be done, Kirk did it,” Lemerand said. “He was always a kid who worked hard in practice and he had a positive attitude toward other kids. He was our team captain. He was our leader.”
Putnam said he enjoyed playing center the most, because he could help decipher blitzes and schemes and alert his teammates, but he also loved playing tackle because “they really liked pulling behind me and it was fun.”
On the defensive side of the ball it came down to strength and toughness, two attributes he’s proven to have more than enough of over time.
Lemerand said Putnam has lived in the weight room ever since he started playing football and Putnam credits Lemerand, as well as his father Kirk Putnam II for giving him plenty of motivation to mold his body to fit his game.
While he trains hard to get ready for the on-field battles, there’s hardly anything that can pull him off of it.
Take the 2008 playoff game at Lumen Christi for example.
“I blew blood vessels in like the arch of my foot that game, and I played the whole game after it happened in the first quarter,” he said with a smile on his face.
And in week nine this season, with Hillsdale needing a win over a Top 10-ranked Manchester squad, the broad-shouldered 18-year-old fought off walking pneumonia and played both ways all night long.
The payoff was helping his buddies lock off a playoff berth — well worth it in his eyes.
“Sometimes my back still hurts from my injury my sophomore year. And then this year in the Columbia Central game I just kept getting hit in the elbows and at halftime I couldn’t bend my arms and it wasn’t fun. I was wishing I had Justin Reed’s elbow pads,” he said. “When you start playing a game you don’t really feel it, it’s just after the game when it hurts the most.”
Despite the tenacity Putnam showcases when donning Hornets’ gold and blue, he had questions about his senior year, just like any kid in his position might have.
After the team put itself in an 0-3 hole to start the season, he wasn’t quite sure what his final season was going to be remembered for.
“The first three games I was really worried about what was going to happen this year, but then coach didn’t give up on us and he told us that if we just all worked together we could go to the playoffs and win six games straight,” he said. “I really wanted my senior year to probably be one of the best (and)
I’ll just have a lot of good memories from playing with my friends. I’m going to miss that the most.”
He said his fondest moments include the ribbing he’s endured from teammates and coaches during film sessions, as well as preseason camps and post-game get-togethers.
In fact he’s still coming to grips that this journey that began with him as a water boy on the sidelines as early as the first-grade is finally wrapping up.
“The last game was just so hard, I don’t know…it was just so fun this year and talking about it I’m getting kind of emotional right now. It just really sucked, I just wish I had another year,” he said. “I’m just really an emotional guy when it comes to this sport.”
And those emotions are exactly what have invited Putnam to go beyond his on-field duties as a Hornet leader.
“He lifts with me in first hour, Hornet Power, to get it out of the way, and then he comes up after school and does a little more lifting and helps spot the younger kids, a lot of middle schoolers who he helps teach. That’s exactly what we’re looking for out of our kids,” Lemerand said.
Putnam is also an NHS member, a top-notch student and a leader in the community through various service.
He wants to give back to a community that has helped make him who he is.
“I just want to keep the tradition going. If the (middle school students) didn’t know how to do a certain lift, at least they will know how to in high school, so they’re not in shock,” Putnam said. “It’s really nice to have a lifting program after school where the kids can come over from the middle school.”
Soon he’ll have to figure out what weight room he wants to call home for the next four or five years though, and Lemerand said he knows Putnam has what it takes to play college football.
“He’s got the size, he’s not the tallest, but he’s a big, tough kid who is training in the weight room and doing some running and things to get ready to play at the next level. I think he’ll have the ability to do it,” he said. “A lot of kids who come back to us who have gone on to play come back and say it’s so much faster because you’re talking about the best kids from every high school playing at the next level. He’ll have to work on that. But I think he’ll work hard at it.”
Lemerand said he envisions him as a “center most likely” because of his great consistency in getting the ball to the QB in shotgun sets and his history as a long-snapper.
Putnam has touched on how great it would be to play football at Hillsdale College without discussing specifics, but said “he’s still in the selection process” and having an opportunity to play D II football “would be awesome, but it’s about how the cards play out.”
At the end of the day it comes down to one simple notion: “I just don’t want it to be over with yet.”
And as his days as a high school student come to a quick close Lemerand hopes more players follow Putnam’s example.
“He’s exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about a Hornet football player,” he said. “There are a lot of them, but Kirk is one of those kids that is great around the younger kids (and) he helps out in the weight room.”