Instead, Kirksey missed the final nine games of the season. Similar injuries cost Kirksey another eight games in his first two seasons. It’s all about staying healthy now for the 6-foot-1, 275-pound starting nose guard.
“Ever since I got injured, I’ve had a different mindset since then,” Kirksey said. “I want to be the best nose guard. I want to be the best. Something switched on for me. Football is not promised to you. You only have a certain amount of time to play. I have to just use all of my resources, and play my best for as long as I can. Whether that’s in the league or the Big Ten, I’m going all out.”
Kirksey spent his summer working out, but is not deaf to the preseason polls that project Rutgers to finish low in the conference. As a 6-foot-1 defensive lineman, Kirksey is used to being doubted.
Questions about Rutgers in its new conference only serve as motivation for him, he said.
“All of the exposure we get from the Big Ten is exciting,” Kirksey said. “Everybody has us last. We’re under-sized. We’re young. We’re not going to do very well. They just don’t know our heart. That’s what wins games.”
Kirksey plans to shut out distractions with the opposing center as his only focus.
“I’m not worried about what they say or the other team,” Kirksey said. “I just want to beat the center up. That’s my job. Every play -- I’m coming.”
The starter at nose tackle, Kirksey is one practice into training camp after a solid spring. More importantly, it was a healthy spring for Kirksey, who replaced Isaac Holmes as the starter.
“It’s not a big difference because I did it the whole spring,” Kirksey said on his role. “I know my assignments and I was a co-starter last year with Ike. I know how to handle myself in the starting role.”
“God built their bodies like machines,” Kirksey said. “They’re going to be awesome. I’m excited to have Sebastian play behind me. It’s a different mindset for this defensive line. We’re in the weight room by six in the morning, every day this summer. We’re working out, stretching, lifting.”
When it comes to coaching, Kirksey said he looks to defensive line coach Jim Panagos and coordinator Joe Rossi.
“Coach Panagos is like me,” Kirksey said. “I love him, and he’s really been looking out for me. He’s a great motivator. He doesn’t yell at me. Everything is positive. He’s a hard coach, but he’s going to get me where I need to go.
“Coach Rossi is great too. One, he’s a great coach. He knows his stuff. Two, he’s a Kirksey fan. He’s serious but he keeps it fun for the players. As players we want to play for him because of the way he carries himself.”