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He Tests His Might Against the Mighty : Colleges: Pomona-Pitzer football and track standout Nate Kirtman hopes for a chance to play in the NFL.

March 26, 1992|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CLAREMONT — Nate Kirtman stepped onto the artificial turf at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and felt overwhelmed on a football field for the first time in four years.

Kirtman, a senior at Pomona College in Claremont, was one of about 350 players who had been invited to last month's NFL scouting combine, an annual gathering during which professional football prospects are poked, prodded, weighed, X-rayed and put through a battery of mental and physical agility tests designed to measure the likelihood of their survival in the NFL.

Kirtman, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound kick returner, receiver, punter and defensive back for Pomona, was one of only a few players from the Division III level that were flown in for the two-day combine. He tried to hide his nervousness as he lined up for a pass-catching drill with receivers from Division I schools that he had only watched on TV.

"It wasn't until Brian Treggs of Cal dropped a pass that I was able to relax," Kirtman said. "He was one of the guys I kind of idolized, so when that happened I kind of gave a sigh of relief.

"Just seeing that he was mortal, too, allowed me to relax. My goal was to compete, and I think I did."

No player from Pomona-Pitzer has ever been selected in the NFL draft. And while Kirtman is hard-pressed not to think about the April 27 draft, he is staying busy competing for the Sagehen track team.

Kirtman, 20, is the two-time defending NCAA Division III champion in the long jump and has twice placed third in the triple jump. On Saturday at a meet in Santa Barbara, he qualified for this year's nationals in the long jump with a mark of 24 feet. On Sunday at a meet in San Diego, he qualified in the triple jump with a mark of 50.2 feet.

"This is the best early season Nate has ever had," said Pat Mulcahy, who has been coaching track at Pomona-Pitzer for 23 years. "In the past, he let it all happen at the end. This year he seems a lot more serious about it."

Since he arrived at Pomona as a 16-year-old graduate of St. Mary's College High in Berkeley, it seems as if Kirtman has been doing everything.

His first two seasons of football were largely forgettable as he added muscle to his 6-2, 170-pound frame. But during his junior season, Kirtman returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. The next game, he was moved to the return unit and ran a kickoff back for a touchdown.

Kirtman went on to lead Division III returners with a 33.9-yard average. He also was second in the nation in punting with an average of 39.6 yards a kick. Those numbers earned him a spot on the Division III All-American team.

Last season, Kirtman averaged 122.1 all-purpose yards a game.

"(Pro football) scouts did come out at the beginning of track season, but it didn't really hit me until I got a call and was told I was going to the combine," Kirtman said. "That night, I think I went out and ran for two hours because I couldn't believe it."

Unbelievable was a word that came to mind a few weeks ago when Kirtman won eight events during Pomona-Pitzer's Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference dual-meet victory over Occidental. Kirtman won the long jump, triple jump, high jump, 100-meter dash, 110-meter high hurdles, 200-meter run, javelin and anchored the 4x100-meter relay team.

Kirtman's performance kept Pomona-Pitzer atop the SCIAC standings and in a good position to become the first school other than Occidental to win back-to-back conference championships in 38 years.

Kirtman is focusing his attention on the Division III nationals in May where he hopes to defend his title in the long jump, win the championship in the triple jump and place among the top three in the 100.

He is hoping for a call on NFL draft day, but he is equally excited about receiving the news of his acceptance into law school.

"Things have turned out fairly well for me at Pomona-Pitzer," Kirtman said. "If I had gone to a bigger school, I don't think I would have been able to excel the way I have. I think I would have been overlooked because I was so young and still developing physically."

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