Coaches often try to temper expectations for true freshmen, understanding the difficulty teenagers often experience transitioning from being a high school star on Friday nights to going up against bigger, faster, more talented players on college football Saturdays.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital did no such thing this summer when discussing receiver Christian Kirk. If anything, Spavital cranked up the pressure on the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Arizona product by speaking glowingly about Kirk’s work ethic and essentially naming him a starter on perhaps the SEC’s most talented receiving corps before training camp began.
"He is a straight professional ... he watches just as much tape as I do," Spavital told ESPN.com in July. "He'll tell me that he watched 100 clips of something every single day. Most kids don't do that, especially at the freshman level.”
A month into his collegiate career, Kirk is blowing observers away with his sudden impact.
Kirk’s emergence is one of the biggest surprises in the league so far. Though he was well-regarded as a recruit (Kirk was an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 35 overall player in the 2015 class), it would be difficult to find someone willing to say in preseason that Kirk would become Texas A&M’s best receiver just four games into his true freshman campaign.
Here’s a breakdown of where Kirk stands after his super September:
No. 1 among Power 5 receivers in yards after catch (275).
No. 1 in the Power 5 in punt return average (37.25 yards per return, minimum four punt returns).
No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 among Power 5 receivers in receiving yards (442).
No. 2 in the SEC in receptions (24) and receiving touchdowns (four).
No. 1 in the SEC and No. 6 in the Power 5 in receiving yards before first contact (387).
No. 2 in the SEC and No. 8 among Power 5 receivers in yards after catch per reception (11.46).
Caught 100 percent of passes targeted to him.
Averaging 20.6 all-purpose yards per touch (39 total touches, 805 all-purpose yards)
His career debut was a smash hit as he compiled 224 all-purpose yards (118 return yards, 106 receiving) and two touchdowns against his hometown university, Arizona State, on Sept. 5. It dropped some jaws, but it wasn’t a surprise to everybody.
“I've been friends with that kid for so long and I've known his talent for so long,” said Texas A&M quarterback and fellow Arizona native Kyle Allen said on Sept. 8. “Just to see him be able to do what he did at the high school level and his first college game against his hometown team, I'm so happy for that kid and his family ... It's just awesome because he's such a great kid and he deserves all of the credit that he's getting. He works so hard at it and you're going to see a lot of him this season.”
Allen’s prediction holds up so far, as Kirk compiled three 100-yard receiving games in his first four appearances. In Texas A&M’s 28-21 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday, Kirk was seemingly unstoppable, catching eight passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 20-yard touchdown catch in overtime. His first three touches went for 130 yards, an incredible 43.3 yards per touch.
“He made a statement,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We handed it to him. We threw it to him, and he returned it. Certainly he is a dynamic player, and we're finding ways to get him involved.”
Spavital got creative with Kirk on Saturday, even lining him up in the backfield in a running back/H-back position, a strategy that worked well and got Kirk a 57-yard reception out of it because no Arkansas defender covered him.
In August, Spavital called Kirk "a pretty polished receiver for a high school kid coming into the college ranks," lauding his ability to read coverage and use his "body lean" to deceive defenders.
Allen, who like Kirk was recruited by Spavital (Texas A&M special teams coordinator Jeff Banks was also involved in the recruitment of each of them), recalls how high the offensive coordinator was on Kirk when he was still at Saguaro High in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Spav has always said that [Kirk] was his main guy in that recruiting class,” Allen said. “He said ‘I don't care if I get anyone else, if I get this kid, we'll be fine.’ I think you guys can understand why now.”