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Originally published Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 5:45 PM

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Friends, family remember Johnie Kirton's life

Memorial service for former Washington football player celebrates positive impact he had on those around him before his death May 28.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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EVERETT — Ten days later, the shock of Johnie Kirton's sudden death still stings.

But a roughly two-hour memorial service for Kirton at the Christian Faith Center in Everett on Thursday focused on his life.

"Johnie lived 26 years probably more fully than a lot of us will live our entire lives," said Mike Rohrbach, a captain on Washington's 1977 team and later a team chaplain and friend of the Kirton family.

Kirton, a star running back at Jackson High School in Mill Creek and a four-year letterman at UW from 2005 to 2008, died May 28 in Santa Clara, Calif., two days after scoring the winning touchdown for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League. He was 26.

A spokeswoman for the coroner's office in Santa Clara said Thursday a cause of death remains undetermined, pending the results of toxicology and other tests.

"We've been standing on our faith," Kirton's father, Doug, told several hundred attendees, which included a number of former UW players and coaches.

Doug Kirton recalled shopping with his son and how Johnie would often call to make sure they weren't wearing the same clothes to events. He decided Thursday to wear the same suit in which his son was being buried.

Dan Howell, a former Huskies linebacker and teammate of Kirton's, recalled that when his father died during the 2006 season, Kirton was one of the first to call him.

"The most important thing is that Johnie was there for me," Howell said.

Howell returned an interception for a touchdown to clinch a 2006 victory for Washington over UCLA in the first game following his father's death. That came minutes after Kirton had scored the go-ahead touchdown in an eventual 29-19 Husky victory.

Howell noted that while many in the audience were in suits, he was not. And he was certain Kirton would have approved.

"That's what Johnie was all about — be yourself," Howell said.

A six-minute slideshow showed Kirton was more than just a football player, displaying pictures from every stage of his life, including a trip he took to South Africa in 2008, where he worked primarily with children. He took the trip while a student at UW, where he graduated with a degree in Comparative History and Ideas.

Rohrbach recalled often seeing Kirton interact with kids at camps.

"Kids know the real deal, and in Johnie they saw the real deal," he said.

After leaving UW in 2008, Kirton played arena football in Spokane, Arizona, Chicago and San Jose.

At the time of his death, he had relocated to Arizona where he had a 2-year-old daughter, Jayde Josephine Kirton.

A college fund has been established for Jayde Kirton through Chase Bank. Details can be found on johniekirton.com.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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