Iowa CITY, Iowa - Christian Kirksey remembers his first taste of college football overwhelming him. The Hawkeyes were coming off an Orange Bowl victory and big things were expected for them in 2010.
"As a true freshman, my head was spinning," Kirksey said. "I remember the first day of camp, I got up and everybody was just running around. I didn't know what I was doing. I looked like a lost puppy."
At the grizzled age of 19, the St. Louis native now finds himself guiding the inexperienced.
"We're a young team, so I do look to myself as being a leader," Kirksey said. "I know a lot of young guys look to me as being a leader. I've just got to take that role and make myself comfortable being in that role."
Kirksey played in 11 games as a true freshman. He started 13 as a sophomore. He displayed valuable versatility not missing a beat when switching from WLB to LEO midseason. He also ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 8.5 tackles per game.
"I eventually got into the mode of things," Kirksey said about his early jitters. "It was scary my first game. But you have to shake the nerves off and just play football."
MLB James Morris joins Kirksey as a returning starter. Fellow true junior Anthony Hitchens is a leg up on the No. 1 WLB spot.
"He's a good tackler," Kirksey said. "He's just a good all around player."
As a leader, Kirksey is helping to push a message of unity when it comes to the Hawkeye defense.
"Just make sure we are one unit, not just a linebacker corp or a D-Back corp and not just the D-Line; make sure it's one defense and playing together," he said. "I think that's the key."
Phil Parker takes over as defensive coordinator after spending the last 13 seasons in charge of the team's defensive backfield.
"I look at it as the same defense," Kirksey said. "Coach Parker was already in the system. He just moved up to defensive coordinator, but we already had a feel for the way he coached."
While the focus remains on the team for Iowa players, sometimes pieces of information on individuals leaks out. Kirksey is gaining a reputation as a big hitter.
"You always want to give hard hits on the running back," he said. "You want to force them to pass the ball. As a linebacker, you want to be known as hitting hard.
"At the same time, you still have to make sure that you're good in coverage and overall everything a linebacker has to be."