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SHP alum Ben Burr-Kirven an intriguing NFL linebacker prospect

Eric Branch, SF Chronicle
Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, a Sacred Heart Prep alum, has NFL aspirations after he led NCAA Division I players with 176 tackles last season.

Eight years ago, when he was the head football coach at Sacred Heart Prep, it didn’t take Pete Lavorato long to determine Ben Burr-Kirven wasn’t a typical freshman.
The kid introduced himself by grilling Lavorato about his defense and other aspects of his program.

“Instead of me explaining things to him,” Lavorato said, “he basically interviewed me. He has always been very intentional in everything he does. And he wanted to make sure we were going to do the right things be successful.”

That approach has helped Burr-Kirven enjoy wild success.

The inside linebacker was the MaxPreps Division III State Player of the Year at Sacred Heart before finishing his career at Washington last year by leading Division I in tackles (176) and earning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Now, however, before the start of the NFL draft Thursday, plenty of teams have the same question of the inquisitive Burr-Kirven, who was also the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2018: Are you big enough?

When it comes to certain measurables, Burr-Kirven, who is 6-foot and 230 pounds, doesn’t measure up. Of the 37 linebackers at the NFL combine, only seven were shorter and four lighter than Burr-Kirven.

CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang, who lives near Seattle, saw plenty of Burr-Kirven in college and terms him “one of the most instinctive linebackers in the country” who has excellent speed and a “Jedi-like” ability to find the football. However, Rang also wouldn’t be surprised if Burr-Kirven is a late-round pick, partly because just 5.5 of his tackles last year came behind the line of scrimmage.

“He’s not a real powerful guy, and he does struggle when blockers are able to get to him,” Rang said. “That’s one of the reasons his numbers are so astronomical is because he made a lot of tackles (many) yards downfield rather than real close to the line of scrimmage.”

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout, acknowledges Burr-Kirven likely will “get swallowed up at times in the run game.” However, Jeremiah also noted teams have moved away from industrial-size linebackers who can stuff the run in favor of faster players who can excel in coverage in an increasingly pass-happy league.

Burr-Kirven might be small, but he’d hardly be unique when it comes to size among NFL inside linebackers: Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith (6-3, 215), Atlanta’s Deion Jones (6-1, 222) and the 49ers’ Kwon Alexander (6-1, 227), among others, have flourished with similar dimensions.
Burr-Kirven’s 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds) ranked sixth among the 22 linebackers who ran at the combine.

“In today’s game, the way it’s played, (he’s) plenty big enough,” said Jeremiah, who pegs Burr-Kirven as a fourth-round pick. “At linebacker, you’ve got to be able to run, you’ve got to be able to cover, and it’s nice if (they) can use you to blitz. Hardly any of these guys are built to bang and take on blocks like the old 15-year-ago linebacker. It’s not as important. You’ve got to be able to cover guys.”

Lavorato, who is now at King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, recalls a similar conversation surrounding Burr-Kirven four years ago.

“He proved people wrong coming out of high school,” Lavorato said. “There were a lot of places that didn’t recruit him. … It was, ‘Well, he doesn’t have the size to play linebacker.’

“But the thing is he has the speed, the tenacity and the work ethic, and he’s really smart. And that’s what allows him to often sort of magically appear where the ball is.”

Draft info
Round 1
Time/TV: 5 p.m. Thursday/ Channel: 7Channel: 10 ESPN, NFL Net
Rounds 2-3
Time/TV: 4 p.m. Friday/ Channel: 7Channel: 10 ESPN*, NFL Net
Rounds 4-7
Time/TV: 9 a.m. Saturday/ Channel: 7 ESPN, NFLNet
* ESPN2 replaces ESPN at 5 p.m.
Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: ebranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12