HOOVER, Ala. — In his first two college seasons, Christian Kirk has amassed 163 catches, 1,937 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, and as a returner, he has run back five of the 27 punts he’s fielded for touchdowns. But if you really want to be wowed by the Texas A&M wideout, call Dave Marsh.
Marsh is the new offensive coordinator at FCS Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. He spent 2003 to ’08 in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed in Iraq as a squad leader. Marsh returned to Arizona and was coaching youth football in Scottsdale when he met Kirk, who was a sixth-grader playing for the Scottsdale Argonauts, a team loaded with future high-level recruits. Three of Kirk’s Argonauts teammates became Elite 11 quarterbacks: Houston’s Kyle Allen, Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke and Cal’s Luke Rubenzer (who now plays safety). Marsh says Kirk had uncanny maturity and focus for a grade-schooler, the same kind of stuff Aggies coaches have raved about pretty much from the first day the five-star recruit arrived midway through his senior year of high school, carrying himself like a pro. “He’s always been that way—even back when he was little,” Marsh says. “From the get-go you could really push his buttons and he always responded great and wanted you to push him even more.”
Marsh’s favorite Kirk story is from 2011. Kirk was a 150-pound freshman at Scottsdale’s Saguaro High trying to adjust to a position change from running back to wideout. Marsh was coaching receivers and had his guys blocking.
“He got absolutely destroyed,” Marsh says. “But after the weekend, he came back on Monday and he was our best blocker.”
What sparked that 180?
”I had just got my butt kicked,” Kirk says. “They called me out. Tested me. I went home and was determined to play. So I went on YouTube and watched every bit of film I could find to learn how to block. I watched NFL guys, college guys. I watched everything I could, for hours at a time. All on my own. I had a mirror and practiced it and made sure I mastered my craft. I knew that was one way I’d be playing to get on the field.
“I had set a goal to start as a freshman and I was gonna do anything to do it.”
From studying all those clips years ago, Kirk realized blocking all came down to ‘want-to’ and mental toughness. Marsh is not the least bit surprised Kirk emerged as a star in the SEC so fast, becoming the first A&M player with consecutive 80-catch seasons. From his time in the Marines, Marsh knows how crucial it is to find out how people respond to adversity.
“This is why a lot of four- and five-star guys flame out after they get to college because it’s the first time they’ve ever really been challenged and they don’t know how to respond,” says Marsh. Last season, he coached Kirk again after following offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone from UCLA to College Station before leaving to run his own college offense at the FCS level.
That resolve, Kirk said, all goes back to his parents. “They instilled it in me at a young age that if I want something then I have to work hard,” he said at SEC Media Days. “I have to be disciplined and very humble. Hard work has been a testament to all the success I have had, and it paid off for me. I have been able to see it first-hand. I have goals and dreams that I want to be accomplished. Anything outside of that holds me off that path, then I’m not about it. I’m thankful to be in this place.”
From the time Kirk was four, he says, he would wake up at 5 a.m. in the summers to get ready to go to work with his dad in what was then Evan Kirk’s mobile detailing company. “It’d be 110° and we’d wash cars all day, and then I’d come back home around 7 at night,” Christian says. “I’d do that all summer. That’s how I learned about hard work. Getting down and doing the work that not a lot of people want to do, but my dad was passionate about it. I saw that passion.”
Kirk has seen how his father’s car detail company, Distinctly Different, has grown. Just like how his mother, Melissa, has risen to become a vice president of technology in her company. "They taught me about how to work for something,” he says.
One thing Kirk and his teammates are working for this fall is bettering a string of three 8–5 seasons that each began with 5–0 starts, a trend that has put their coach Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat. Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward officially put him there in May when he went on the Paul Finebaum Show at SEC meetings and said, “Coach Sumlin knows he has to win. He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past.”
At SEC Media Days, Sumlin was asked about his reaction to his boss’s comments by just about every person in Hoover other than custodial staff. Kirk was asked about it, too.
“Coach Sumlin doesn’t go out there and play on Saturdays,” Kirk said. “That’s up to us to go out there and win. We’ve got to be better as players. We’re all playing for Coach Sumlin. We believe that every Saturday, he’s going to put us in the best position to win.”
The Aggies, once again, will have a new starting quarterback, just as in the previous three seasons. Replacing Trevor Knight’s leadership will be vital for the new QB, whomever he is. The defense is also replacing ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Texas A&M’s unquestioned star and leader now is the 20-year-old Kirk.
Asked about his goals for 2017, Kirk didn’t mention winning the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top wide receiver, or breaking any more school records.
“I want to bring a championship to Texas A&M,” he said. “That is my main goal I want to get done before I leave this place. It is something our university has waited awhile. I know we have the talent to do it. We just have to put it together the whole season. I believe we just need to finish and work hard every game. If we do what we are supposed to, then I think we can win a championship, which is the number one goal for me.”
If A&M has more guys who follow Kirk’s lead, they might just have a shot at it.