"Yes, he changed his commitment to Oklahoma State," said Kirk of Villarreal, who had 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss this past season as a senior. He also had offers from Houston, Texas Tech, UTEP and Texas-San Antonio.
Villarreal will become the first player in any sport in the 60-year history of Hidalgo Early College High School to sign an NCAA Division I scholarship, Kirk said.
"He took his visit last weekend. He really liked it. I don't want to speak for him but I I think it's a matter of it being a small town and he likes that, and, of course, he loved the facilities. He felt like it was the best place for him," said Kirk. "It was very difficult because he had a strong connection to the University of Houston. Coach (Kevin) Sumlin and those guys were awesome to him, and really kind of opened the door for him to get these other offers.
"I'll tell you what, Alex's story is a real good story. I've been coaching in Houston all my life, and I don't know if you know where we're at but my office is literally one mile from the Rio Grande River. When I got here two years ago he was a guy that wasn't a bad person at all but he wasn't achieving what he should have been achieving, both academically or anything else. He was a big body kid with a lot of talent. But he's come a long way," said Kirk.
"We're very proud of Alex. We're very proud of what he's accomplished. This kid here is very special."
Kirk said that Villarreal's statistics from his high school season were not eye-popping numbers but that's because he often was getting double teamed.
"He's was getting double-teamed a lot, getting cut a lot, but he still did a great job for us. It was real hard for him. He had some great stats really for how he was being played. People had to account for him, but he did a great job for us," his coach said. "I know he had 10 sacks for us, and 10 sacks playing inside is a lot of sacks.
"He had a rough year this year because he was constantly getting cut and getting cut off, and getting double-teamed, but that was good for him. He's got a good pass rush, and he's got good technique, but he's got a ways to go. With a guy like Alex, you're looking at potential. You're looking at upside."
But Villarreal has the type of body that has coaches excited, including one NFL coach, Kirk said.
"I coached (Houston Texans head coach) Gary Kubiak in high school. I'm good friends with Gary, and Gary has met Alex. He looked at him and thought he was a free agent walking in with me or something," said the Hidalgo head coach.
Kirk says that Villarreal stands a little better than 6-3 and is pushing 290 pounds. He runs a 4.7 or 4.8, squats 600 pounds and can bench 350.
"I got tickled the other day, Joe (DeForest) called me the other day when he was on his visit and he said, ‘Coach, I just can't believe he weighed that much.' You look at him and you think he weighs about 240 because he's so put together. He said, ‘We put him on there and he was at 284.' That tells you about his physique. He's got a 38-inch waist on a 290-pound body, so what's that tell you?
"Is he ready to go play college football right now? No. But it's not going to be long. His upside is he's got a chance to be real, real special. I've got a kid who is going to be starting on the D-line at Texas next year in Greg Daniels, who was one of the top recruits in the country last year. Alex is a different kind of body than Greg. Greg is a longer kid at 6-5, but Alex is one of those kids who can play inside or outside. He's athletic enough.
"Can you imagine what this kid is going to be when he gets in there and he's eating, sleeping and drinking academics and football four or five hours a day, and that's all he's doing? He'll be a 300-pound kid who looks like he weighs 260 or 270. I know it's hard to visualize that but it's true," said Kirk.
But Kirk had his doubts when arrived at Hidalgo High School in the spring of 2008 and saw Villarreal.
"When I came in here they had him in what they called a back class, that was the spring of his sophomore year. They put kids back there that really didn't understand English real well, and they just had to hand stuff to them (to help them pass). They made it easy for them. I went in there and told him, ‘Look man, we're getting out of there.' He said, ‘No coach, it's easy.' But we got him out of there.
"The other day he was laughing with me and saying, ‘Coach, look at me now. I'm taking Pre-Calculus and I'm taking pre-AP English 4,' and he's making A's, and we're an early college school that was the No. 1 school district in the state of Texas academically two years ago.
"He could barely speak English when I got here. He's a very intelligent young man but he just developed quickly and took hold of what we told him to do. I told him he could be a D-I football player and he didn't even know what that meant. His family obviously didn't know anything about how it was working. He was telling me and Coach DeForest the other day, ‘Coach, when I was a sophomore I didn't even know what a first down was.' So, he's come a long ways.
"The great thing about him is he's about 15 percent as good as he's going to be some day. A lot of these kids coming out (of high school) nowadays coming out of these programs are already tapped out. They're awesome but that's as good as they're going to get. But with him, he's not even close yet. Structurally, body-wise, he's phenomenal."
Villarreal is an only child who has never known his father. He was born in McAllen, Texas, about eight miles north of Hidalgo, but lived for a while in Mexico while growing up.
"He's probably as classy of an individual and as mature of an individual as you'll ever want to meet. He's not going to be a kid out there getting involved in things he's not supposed to. He has a vision. Just 20 minutes ago he was sitting here telling me that he lived in Mexico off and on when he was younger and he said, ‘Coach, I've seen bundles and bundles of cocaine and marijuana, and pictures of people with their head's cut off. I've seen all of that. That part of life I think I'm ahead of everybody. Nothing is going to amaze me.'
"Culturally, it's going to be a huge change for him (going from a high school that is 98 percent Hispanic) and it's going to be a challenge for him. That's one thing that I was a little concerned about, and one of the things that Joe and them were concerned about originally and why they didn't offer him early. But I think they saw that he's changed.
"There are very few Hispanics that play major college football or play NFL football. There are just very few. But he's that guy that I think has a shot. He's got to prove it and he's got to do it, and it's going to be tough but Oklahoma State is going to be one of the top-10 teams in the country next year. I think that's the thing that kind of attracted him too," said Kirk.
Kirk not only thinks that Villarreal will be a success at Oklahoma State but believes he will become a role model for future generations from the Rio Grande Valley.
"Like I told him this morning, you're no longer Alex Villarreal, the Hidalgo football player and student. Now you're going to be representing the whole (Rio Grande) Valley, and this whole region, because very few kids get a chance to go out of here to a Big 12 school," the football coach said.
"People are going to be watching you and looking at you. You're not only going to have to act right in the community and be a part of the community in Oklahoma but you're going to have to be somebody coming back and helping us here, and being a mentor for all these young kids because people are going to be watching. The expectations is for him to go represent and take this on, and it's going to be tough because of the culture of the Hispanic families is they are very close, and especially since it's just him and his mom. Your mom is going to be 15 hours away from you, so you're going to have to be big boy. But he knows all of that and he took all of that into consideration.
"Football-wise, I think he has a chance to go to the NFL. I really do. If he works hard and does what he's supposed to, there's no reason why he can't. We know that that's few and far between but that's my expectation. At least give yourself a chance to go to that level.
"We have high expectations. I told him, ‘You're going to be coming back here and putting on a cap one day for the kids at Hildago and the Valley.' This kid is very special."