The bad news for Texas A&M is the Aggies lose three of their four best receivers from 2016. The good news is the lone returner may be the most dynamic of the bunch.
While the Aggies offense can no longer count on Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones or Speedy Noil to power the aerial attack, the team benefits greatly by the presence of junior Christian Kirk. Kirk not only led the SEC with 83 catches in 2016 but also proved himself to be one of the best do-it-all players, leading the nation with three punt-return touchdowns and compiling 1,418 all-purpose yards.
The departure of three receivers is a critical hit for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense, but Kirk’s remaining can’t be overstated enough.
“Well, it more than softens the blow,” Sumlin said. “Without a doubt, (he’s) one of the better guys in the country with the ball in his hands and being a leader. Nobody prepares harder, nobody takes care of themselves better, nobody works harder in the game than Christian Kirk. I think he's a great example for all our good, young players, but particularly at that wide receiver position.”
Sumlin lauded Kirk’s leadership skills, which he said were put on display with the team’s early enrollees at receiver. Sumlin said Kirk pulled them aside back in January and gave them advice on how to handle their business so there is next to no drop-off in the wide receiver corps come fall.
That willingness to lead the inexperienced players was a conscious effort Kirk said he knew he had to make.
“I need to make sure they’re fully prepared, especially in fall camp,” Kirk said. “Make sure they’re getting in film study, preparation, recovery and all those facets right. That’s going to be big for their development, but they’ve got so much talent I’m really excited with how far they’ve come and how far they’ll go in fall camp.”
It wasn’t too terribly long ago that Kirk was someone just stepping into the Aggies program. He said as a high school player, he looked up to SEC receivers such as LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Alabama’s Amari Cooper, hoping one day to be just as productive in the conference.
Now, he’s the man who playmakers at 7-on-7 high school camps in Texas point to as the guy they want to be.
The attention is fine to Kirk, but it’s merely a byproduct of doing what he needs to for the Aggies.
“It just all comes with hard work,” Kirk said. “Being on the front of the magazines, that’s not something I seek out. That’s not why I do it. I do it because I want to be the best player and best person I can be. I want to be a good example for the young stars growing up today, but more importantly, my teammates. I want to show them the way.”
Kirk said he appreciates a punt return touchdown a little more than a receiving score mainly due to how rare the former is. He said his goal is to lead the Aggies to a championship in the 2017 season, and if that is to come to fruition, Kirk will likely need to make both happen.
“It is something our university has waited awhile for,” Kirk said of a championship season. “I know we have the talent to do it; We just have to put it together the whole season.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports