Accounting for Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk isn’t just a task for first, second and third down. The Aggie star is part of the game plan on punts and kickoffs, too.
He’s so versatile that he occupied three different places on the first-team All-SEC squad last year: wide receiver, all-purpose player and return specialist.
“Christian Kirk is maybe the most explosive player – returner, receiver, runner – of anybody in our league,” coach Nick Saban said.
Kirk has six career return touchdowns and 20 career receiving touchdowns – including one of each in two games against Alabama. He’s had 16 receptions for 148 yards in his career against Alabama and returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown in 2015.
Some Alabama players have known how dangerous Kirk could be even before they played in college. Cornerback Levi Wallace, from Tucson, Ariz., knew of Kirk’s exploits when he played high school football in Scottsdale. Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton was one year older than Kirk, but played with him at Nike’s The Opening.
“He was a junior still in high school and he was one of our best players on our team,” Hamilton said. “And ever since then, I have been keeping up with him. He’s a real special talent so we’re going to have do what we got to do to try to limit him.”
He was the difference in Texas A&M’s overtime win against Arkansas two weeks ago, when he had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He had three punt return touchdowns last season. As a result, he has only two punt returns in five games this year as teams kick away from him.
His contributions in the third phase of the game can make a difference. That’s part of what sets Texas A&M apart as a challenge from Alabama’s first five opponents.
“Because of Christian Kirk being a fantastic returner, these guys are very dangerous on special teams,” Saban said. “So this is by far, I think, the strongest team that we’ve played to this point all the way around.”
Kirk gets plenty of opportunities with the ball, too. He’s posted at least four catches in 26 of 31 career games. Only one other player for the Aggies has double-digit catches this year.
“They try and get him the ball, every play,” linebacker Keith Holcombe said. “He’s one of the best athletes in the league, everyone knows it. You have to make sure you know where he is on the field and make sure you make tackles on him. He makes guys miss, that’s how he makes explosive plays.”
Texas A&M’s offense skews more toward the run than the pass this season, but its passing game still pushes the ball to Kirk. Alabama will try to limit his effect on offense and elsewhere.
“He’s a guy who has got the juice,” Hamilton said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.