Christian Kirksey made the holiday dinner table a lot more interesting with his decision to attend Iowa this week. His nephew, Brandon Kirksey, played as a true freshman defensive tackle with Minnesota last season.
"He said that he would agree with any decision I made," Christian said. "But that's a rival school and of course you want to be on the winning side of it. But he said I'll have my back no matter what decision I make."
Christian Kirksey and his teammate at Hazelwood East High School in the St. Louis area, Don Shumpert, became what is believed to be the 12th and 13th verbal commitments to Iowa's 2010 recruiting class earlier this week. Hawkeye coaches are restricted from speaking about the duo until they sign a binding letter of intent in February.
"When I took a visit to the school, I really liked it," said Kirksey, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound outside linebacker. "My parents liked it a lot, too. They seemed to have a lot of background as far as how many people they put in the league. I like the style of the defense.
"I was real impressed with how the coaches carried themselves. The facilities were awesome. When we went to the practice, the players seemed real cool and respectful when I introduced myself to them."
Shumpert and Kirksey visited Iowa on August 9 after camping at the school in June.
"My final two were Minnesota and Iowa," said, Shumpert, a 6-2, 185-pound safety. "I sat down and thought about Minnesota and realized I liked Iowa better. At that point, I just wanted to get the decision out of the way."
Scout.com rates Shumpert as a one-star recruit on a five-star scale. Kirksey is not ranked.
The Hazelwood duo received impressive scholarship offers despite not obtaining stars from Scout. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa offered both players. Illinois offered Shumpert. Eric Johnson served as lead recruiter for the Hawkeyes.
Hazelwood won the Class 5A state title last season. Iowa signed another player from the school, DeMarco Paine, in its 2008 class.
Shumpert played with Paine at McCluer North High near St. Louis before transferring to Hazelwood as a sophomore. That same year, Kirksey came to Hazelwood from Riverview Gardens High.
Kirksey and Shumpert hit it off right away and have grown closer each year. They did not, however, plan to attend the same college.
"It just kind of worked out that way," Kirksey said. "We've got the same interests. The school just met the requirements that we needed."
One of the requirements was a chance at early playing time.
"Where we might stand on the depth chart when we get there was important," Kirksey said. "I read in one of the booklets that 86 percent of the African-American student athletes at Iowa graduate."
Said Shumpert: "I like the Iowa coaches a lot. They've been together for about 11 years. Coach (Kirk) Ferentz just got the contract extension, so I know that he'll be my head coach throughout my time there. I like that."
Shumpert said he'll get a crack at free safety at Iowa, while Kirksey projects to stay at outside linebacker.
"I like the style of defense," Shumpert said. "When I went up there, the coach let me watch film on how their free safeties play. I'm used to playing like that because I play like that at my school."
Shumpert said that his last electronically time 40-yard dash read 4.45 seconds. Kirksey was 4.5.
"I'm a playmaker and I get to the ball real fast," Shumpert said. "I can run the hashes."
Said Kirksey: "I'm a hard-working player. I'm a player that's willing to make a big play if my number is called. Like my coach says, big-time players make big-time plays in big parts of the games. I believe I'm that kind of player. I'd say I'm a speed-type linebacker, but I will come downhill and make the tackle."
Kirksey and Shumpert attended all of the same camps together in high school. They've supported each other every step of the way and have decided to bring that bond to Iowa City.
"We transferred to East when we were sophomores and ever since then we've been close," Shumpert said. "We've got a real good relationship. That's my close friend."