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Kirk has breakout game after being slowed 1st 3 weeks

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

By KRISTIE RIEKEN

AP Sports Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M's Christian Kirk was so upset when he walked off the field after the game against Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago that he couldn't even enjoy the win.

The star receiver and returner was mad at himself for muffing a punt and not performing as well as he thought he should on offense.

"I hold myself to a very high standard, probably to a standard that nobody else can hold me to," Kirk said. "And I felt my game against (Louisiana-Lafayette) was probably one of the worst games I've had since I've been here and it ate me alive inside."

It was then that he vowed to atone what he thought was a poor performance when the Aggies returned to the field on Saturday in their Southeastern Conference opener. Kirk was able to do just that, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown and finishing with 110 yards receiving with two touchdowns in a 50-43 overtime win against Arkansas.

"He was really, really frustrated the week before by his own performance," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "But pride is a great motivator and he's got tremendous pride and tremendous work ethic. When he walked off the field after Lafayette, he was just mad at himself, it wasn't anything else. But he came back, went to work and I wasn't worried about him the next Saturday. That's the kind of guy he is."

Kirk entered the season as one of the top receivers in the country after piling up 1,937 yards receiving combined in his first two seasons. He got off to a slow start this season and didn't have more than 60 yards receiving in any of Texas A&M's first three games as he dealt with near-constant double teams.

On Saturday he was not only able to have a breakout game on offense, he also led the Aggies on special teams when he finished with 136 kick return yards to earn SEC special teams player of the week. Kirk's kick return touchdown on Saturday was Texas A&M's first since Coryell Judie had an 84-yard return on Nov. 12, 2010. Kirk holds the school's record for special teams touchdowns with six after returning five punts for scores in his first two seasons with the Aggies.

Sumlin wasn't concerned about him when he wasn't putting up the kind of numbers he had in the past, and was quick to point out that when teams double-teamed him it led to opportunities for other players on the offense.

"Everybody understands his capability," Sumlin said. "Numbers are going to come for him when he gets his touches. As things roll on he's going to have his opportunities just like he did last Saturday."

Kirk had an 81-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter on Saturday and his 10-yard TD reception in overtime gave the Aggies the win. The performance drew the attention of Arizona Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald who tweeted congratulations to Kirk for his big game and added: "go get that Biletnikoff Trophy," referring to the award given annually to the nation's top collegiate receiver.

Kirk, who grew up in Arizona and has long admired Fitzgerald, was thrilled to be recognized by someone of his caliber.

"It means the world," he said. "It gives me goosebumps thinking about it just because being an Arizona native and growing up he's been with the Arizona Cardinals ever since I've lived there just growing up and watching him. He's the face of the Arizona Cardinals ... so just to be recognized by a guy that's going to be in the Hall of Fame, it means a lot."

Kirk knows that he tends to be too hard on himself, so he did allow himself to enjoy his big game for a bit this weekend. But when he returned campus this week he was right back to critiquing his game and said after watching the film that he could have blocked better and ran crisper routes.

"If you ... go into the film room after the game and you feel like you can't find anything and you're like: `I'm good. I'm just going to roll into practice and keep it up,' then you're not going to get any better," he said. "You have to be critical of yourself. You've got to be able to find an area to get better at every week."

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Updated September 26, 2017

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