The months of July and August represent the waiting season for college football fans. In Texas, temperatures soar and time crawls during the dog days of summer. Preseason talk is ample and not always positive. In the media, the summer months are often spent dissecting who has done what wrong. Scandals and arrests--not reps and route running--make headlines.
However, behind the scenes, and far away from the front page, players work. The sun doesn't relent, and neither do strength and conditioning coaches. Many student-athletes do so much right leading up to preseason practices, even if it does go unnoticed by most.
A prime example is Texas A&M sophomore wide receiver Christian Kirk.
The Scottsdale, Ariz., native carries a clear, focused head atop his broad, sculpted shoulders. His arms are chiseled; his powerful legs pump like well-oiled pistons. He is also an excellent communicator and very polite--all products of a quality upbringing.
His father, Evan, possesses a military background, achieving the highest ROTC rank attainable in high school. From 1982-88, Evan was in the Army Reserves based at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Ind. He now runs an auto detailing business in Scottsdale, where Christian worked in his youth.
"He learned time management skills, and being organized by keeping the mobile van I had in order to allow us to work efficiently," said Evan Kirk. "I'd tell him 'image is everything,' so when he came to work with me he had to look presentable."
That message remains ingrained in the Aggie wideout today. He presents himself as a respectable, well-rounded individual. He learned from his father long ago that selfishness is not an admirable quality.
"He is always putting others before himself," Christian says of Evan. "He's there for people. I've always seen him pour so much love into others."
Even while Christian grew up in the southwestern desert, the Southeastern Conference was where he desired to play college football.
Some might think a mother would cringe when hearing a son's wishes to move nearly 1,000 miles away. However, Melissa Kirk embraced it.
"The funny thing is, even as an Arizona State alum, I was the one who encouraged Christian to go out of state," said Melissa Kirk. "I wanted Christian to spread his wings and experience the world as a young man. I couldn't be more pleased with his choice."
Melissa admits there was bitterness among the Sun Devil faithful when her son spurned her alma mater.
"I've never seen, nor heard, the kind of venom come from people like we did the day of Christian's announcement," Melissa recalled. "That will stay with me for a long time."
Off and Running
Christian Kirk's freshman season was sensational, as the Scottsdale, Ariz., native set the A&M freshman all-purpose yardage record with 1,789 yards. Selected by many outlets as the conference Freshman of the Year, Kirk has devoted his summer to improving even more in 2016.
Christian's career began with last season's opener in Houston against those same Sun Devils. Melissa said any reservations about the game's opponent gave way to the sheer excitement of his debut.
"It was really just anticipation to see if he'd get to play," Melissa said. "None of us went into this with any expectations about playing time. We were just excited that he achieved his dream of playing Division I college football. That kind of excitement is like 20 Christmases wrapped up all together."
Christian gave his family, and Aggie fans everywhere, several memorable presents.
Early in the second quarter, his 79-yard touchdown on a punt return staked A&M to a 14-0 lead. Later, he did most of the work on a 66-yard touchdown reception with less than four minutes remaining to cement the Aggies' win. He provided the electricity in NRG Stadium, and A&M bolted out of the gates in 2015 with a 38-17 victory.
Kirk went on to a dynamic first season of college football. He led the team in catches (80) and receiving yards (1,009), while setting the school record for all-purpose yardage by a freshman (1,789). At season's end, he was named SEC Freshman of the Year by multiple outlets.
However, Kirk always looks for more. As he says, "I was blessed with the ability to tell myself 'that's not good enough.'"
So Kirk will search for an even better sophomore campaign. When he dissects his freshman year, he finds motivation in the final six games of 2015. He may have led the team in total touchdowns for the season, but only three of those scores came in the last half of the year. And two of those came versus FCS foe Western Carolina.
"At the end of the year he was beat up," said A&M wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. "People adjusted to Christian. He has to understand how to stay healthy, to see what people are doing to him and still be able to attack the defense."
As Kirk seeks improvement, his work ethic certainly does not appear to be a problem. It never has been. He trains meticulously, thanks in part to his father's military profile.
"My dad is a detail-oriented guy," said Christian. "I feel like I'm 100 percent detail-oriented. It's all about the little things. For me and my schedule, if the timeframe is off and I miss something, my whole schedule is out of whack. I'm a routine guy."
His agenda this summer certainly reflected that mindset.
The early mornings were spent on workouts, and Kirk often squeezed extra reps in the weight room into an already exhausting routine. Then, it was off to the film room. After lunch, he returned to the weight room for stretching. Kirk allowed himself a late afternoon nap, but the evenings were packed with team meetings and 7-on-7 competition. The day would end with school work, as Kirk was enrolled in an online class this summer.
Regimented and routine, he would do it all over again the next day.
That also carried over to his choice of meals.
"I'm really big on diet," Kirk said. "It's just another thing to make me better. If somebody is going to tell me that eating right is going to elevate my game, then I'll eat right every day of the week."
He doesn't touch carbohydrates. Rather, he eats plenty of salad, with his go-to snack being pita chips and hummus.
The repetition has served him well, and he certainly looks the part of a potential All-American.
"Coming to college, that's one of the biggest things I learned. It's not so much the stuff we have scheduled but how I'm going to use my off time," he said. "Whether it's rehab, extra stretches, extra lifts or watching film. I have all that planned out in my head."
He does all this to be the best, but he knows what he does for others may ultimately decide if he is "the best" in all senses of the word.
Kirk is all-in for his family and teammates, which is another inherited trait from his father.
"He's held me accountable my whole life," said Christian. "That's a big thing when it comes to football. You're supposed to go out there and do your job, and your teammates are supposed to rely on you."
While many media outlets have spent the offseason hinting at turmoil in the A&M locker room, Kirk said he believes in those around him.
"The media made it seem like we were going down in shambles," he said in reference to events beginning in December. "But I give a lot of credit to us as a team and as a program. Everybody is in it for each other, and no one is an individual. Team unity is at an all-time high."
While some pundits have sniped at the A&M program, the scrutiny of the upcoming season has placed a weight on the Aggie players. This team has many competitors like Kirk, who have put in hard hours during the spring and summer with little fanfare. Outside opinions haven't breeched the walls of the Bright Complex, and this team doesn't subscribe to the way many outsiders think.
"It's unfair how much of society these days love to see people fail," Kirk said. "It's sad."
Stories of chemistry and selfless attitude don't generate media clicks, but the Aggies, led by players like Kirk, remain focused on building those qualities where it is important.
"We'd do anything for each other," he said. "I feel like we all treat each other as brothers."
Kirk knows a thing or two about family. The positive influence of his mother and father also extends to his two younger sisters, who he proudly says are the most important girls in his life.
Katie, 16, and Jaylyn, 15, are both excellent students in high school, and Christian describes them as 'superstars.' He has even begun the recruiting process in hopes their future involves a stop in Aggieland, as well.
"When the kids were young we would tell them that we were their biggest support staff, their cheat sheet on life," said Evan.
"Our job as parents was, and is, to be the handbook of life and a good example for them to learn from," Melissa added. "We let them fall, but never too far."
Christian, meanwhile, is always looking to rise.
Early in August, ESPN.com released its 'Top 100 College Football Players' list for the 2016 season. Kirk came in at No. 28 as a sophomore. If he saw the billing from ESPN, the phrase 'that's not good enough' likely rolled through Kirk's mind.
He knows the name on the front of his jersey represents his teammates, and the one on the back represents his family. Kirk said he puts everything into honoring both of those monikers. That is one reason he has the potential to be one of the best playmakers in college football.
Kirk is unapologetic when it comes to his lofty goals and expectations for himself.
"I'm not in this game to be just another guy," he said. "I want to be one of the greats that people remember."
Will Johnson, a host and producer for 12th Man Productions, is a 2001 graduate of Texas A&M University.
When it comes down to it, education is the most important thing someone can have, and student-athletes give so much of their time and talents to our school. If we can help support them to earn that diploma and Aggie ring, then that is what we want to do."