June 19, 2012
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Last summer, University of Iowa outside linebacker Christian Kirksey was a youngster trying to get his foot in the door for more playing time.
Now he is a veteran.
Kirksey is a member of an up-and-coming linebacker group that includes fellow juniors James Morris and Anthony Hitchens. As a sophomore, Kirksey led the Hawkeyes with 62 solo tackles in 13 games, and shared the team lead in total tackles with Morris at 110.
"I was still kind of young last year, but now I'm in a bigger role," said Kirksey, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis. "It feels good to know that I'm an older guy now, and I had another year to improve."
As a freshman in 2010, Kirksey saw action in 11 games and recorded six assisted tackles. A year ago, he was in on 110 stops, five for a loss, with three pass breakups, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
"Last year was my first year starting at linebacker; I got the feel of it, so going through that year was more mentally getting ready," Kirksey said. "This year I feel I have more experience, and I'm mentally tougher and more experienced."
"Last year was my first year starting at linebacker; I got the feel of it, so going through that year was more mentally getting ready. This year I feel I have more experience, and I'm mentally tougher and more experienced."
"I'm looked at as a leader, so I have to do certain things differently than I did last year," Kirksey said.
The offseason shuffle of Hawkeye defensive coaches sent linebackers coach Darrell Wilson to defensive backs, defensive backs coach Phil Parker to defensive coordinator, and former Hawkeye LeVar Woods from administrative assistant to linebackers coach.
"I'm comfortable with it," Kirksey said of the staff changes. "I'm already used to how Phil Parker coaches -- he's an aggressive coach and I like that a lot."
Kirksey has also bonded with Woods, a veteran of 88 NFL games over eight seasons with Arizona, Detroit and Tennessee.
"(Woods) played in the league for a couple years, and it makes me want to listen to what he has to say," Kirksey said. "He has been to a place that I'm trying to go. He sits me down and tells me what I need to do and he corrects my mistakes. He's an awesome coach."
Kirksey spends his summer participating in voluntary workouts, where he aims to improve his speed and strength.
"It's an important time because we have to get a feel for each other," Kirksey said. "It's a big advantage to get oriented and familiar with what we need to do to prepare for the season."
Part of that orientation process is with incoming freshmen.
"The guys are getting a feel for everything," Kirksey said. "We feel this is going to be a good team. We're coming together and we have a good relationship going on. We're getting to work and it feels pretty good."
The Hawkeyes open the season Saturday, Sept. 1, against Northern Illinois in Chicago's Soldier Field. The game begins at 2:30 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ESPNU.