By Ross Forman
Christian Kirk is counting down the days until April 28, when the 2018 NFL Draft is held at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) in Arlington, Texas.
A two-time First-Team All-SEC wide receiver for Texas A&M, Kirk is a likely first-round pick following three flashy seasons in College Station. Kirk caught 209 career passes in college for 2,512 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also had six punt and one kick return touchdowns.
The Cleveland Brown have the No. 1 pick, followed by the New York Giants, New York Jets, and then the Browns again at No. 4.
Going to the NFL, “is still kind of surreal,” said Kirk, 21, who attended Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He played both wide receiver and running back in high school and gained more than 3,000 all-purpose yards as a senior and 2,000 as a junior. Kirk was rated by Rivals.com as a five-star recruit and was ranked among the top overall prospects in his class.
He was a true freshman for the Aggies in 2015.
“(Going to A&M), was the best decision I ever made,” Kirk said. “Growing up, even living in Arizona, I always wanted to play in the SEC. Texas A&M welcomed me in with open arms and, from the get-go, I always felt welcome. My teammates were awesome; College Station was awesome.”
He had three great seasons.
“The relationships that I made and built while I was there are lasting,” he said. “And playing in front of so many fans every week, at the highest-level of competition … it definitely was a blessing.”
It all started Sept. 5, 2015, when Kirk helped the Aggies defeat Arizona State 38-17 in Houston. He had a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown reception in that opener. He finished the game with 224 total yards, and became the first A&M freshman to catch passes for over 100 yards in his debut.
“Admittedly, I was nervous (for that 2015 opener)”, Kirk said. “The nerves were going. I just wanted to get on the field and contribute, just help the team win.
“Ultimately, I had a great season, with so many great players alongside me.”
Kirk played in 35 games in his three seasons for the Aggies, starting 31 of them. In 2017, Kirk had 66 catches for 859 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 13.0 yards per catch.
Kirk has been drawing comparisons to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham.
He averaged 22.0 yards on punt returns and 21.3 yards on kick returns during his college career.
So what one catch stands out?
“It’s tough to pick out one or two catches,” he said. “But, two against Arkansas, in overtime both times, one as a freshman and one as a junior, were memorable. They were big-time games, big time moments.”
Not surprising, coming from Kirk, who has been labeled one of the top five prospects in the draft at his position. Kirk said that fact alone “means a lot and it definitely is a goal of mine to be viewed as one of the best in the game.”
That said, Kirk added, “I try not to read into too much (of the press or pre-draft hype); I just keep my nose to the grindstone and watch how things play out.”
Texas A&M has had a player selected in the first-round in each of the past seven NFL Drafts.
Kirk certainly wants to be a first-rounder.
“It’s been a goal of mine my entire life,” he said. “I now just have to control what I can control, put myself in the best position to be drafted as high as I can.”
And he doesn’t care who ultimately wants Kirk on their team.
“Whoever takes me, I’ll be blessed,” he said.
Kirk was a threat on every kick and punt situation, and yes, he made it into the end zone on some.
Kick and punt returns are “exciting, one of my favorite parts of the game, something I take big pride in,” he said.
“We had a great special teams coach at A&M, and I brought a different dynamic to the game; (those returns) were fun.”
Kirk didn’t hesitate when asked about one of the best kick and punt returners ever, Devin Hester, a four-time Pro Bowl player who played from 2006-2016, mostly for the Chicago Bears.
“He was the best to ever do it,” Kirk said. “Hester is a Hall of Famer, for sure. I definitely think he should be (inducted).
“Most of what he was able to do, and others, was God-given natural talent.”
Kirk was a special autograph-signing guest at the 32nd annual Tristar Collectors Show, held Feb. 9-11 in Houston. He signed on Saturday, alongside such former NFL greats as Jack Youngblood, Lem Barney, Carl Eller, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Ron Yary, Mike Singletary, Robert Brazile, Walter Jones and Bob Lilly, among others.
“Growing up, I think every kid wants to collect cards, especially of their favorite players. I had my fair share of cards that I collected, things that I wanted to get signed,” Kirk said.
“This (Tristar show was) an awesome event. When I heard how big (the show would be), and just getting the chance to come back to Texas, I definitely wanted to do it,” he added.
Kirk’s personal collection includes a signed Peyton Manning jersey.
He also had cards galore of his then-favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, including Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, among others.
When asked whose autograph he would most like to get, without hesitation he said Tom Brady.
“Brady is the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time,” Kirk said. “To see what he does consistently has been great to watch, even though he came up a little short (in the recent Super Bowl).
Kirk watched the Super Bowl this past February at home with his family.
“The thing that goes through my head watching (that game) is, knowing how much work each team had to put in to get to that point,” Kirk said. “Then, (after the game), when that confetti is falling down, it’s the best feeling in the world (if you win).
“It was awesome to see Philadelphia get their first Super Bowl championship.”
Kirk said he’s a Brady fan, but not a New England Patriots fan.
“It’s every competitor’s dream to make it to the top, to make it to the Super Bowl.
That’s what you work for day in, day out,” he said. “It’s easy to say that you want to be there, to say that you want to play in the Super Bowl, but you have to put the work in to get here.”
Kirk has been doing all the work to make it to that first step en route to the Super Bowl.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.