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Northern Illinois comes to town

BY BEN ROSS | AUGUST 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Unlike most University of Iowa students, Christian Kirksey will spend his 21st birthday outdoors, participating in vigorous physical activity.

The senior outside linebacker and newly named captain of the Iowa football team will take the field for the first time as a 21-year-old on Saturday, and even though many might lament having to spend their birthday out in rather hot weather, Kirksey said he wouldn’t have it any other way. “That’s a great 21st birthday; that’s a great way to bring it in,” he said. “It’s the first game, you’re a senior … I’m just going out there and battling with my teammates — that’s the best thing that can happen on your birthday.”

Instead of cake and balloons, Kirksey’s birthday present will come in the form of containing Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois’ senior quarterback, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown in last year’s season-opener against Iowa in an 18-17 win for the Hawkeyes. The loss to Iowa was the only one of the regular season for the Huskies, who ended up with an Orange Bowl berth but fell short to Florida State. Lynch went on to finish seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2012.

“It’s always challenging to face a quarterback that’s a dual threat; it gets you on the edge,” Kirksey said. “I don’t know if he’s going to pass the ball or get you with his feet.”

He will take a “make plays or die” mentality into the first game of the season. He said that he sees every football season as his last.

“Every time I step on the field for a season, I think of it as my last,” he said. “You never know what happens — injuries or anything. I just try to take that approach — every game could be my last opportunity. I know in the back of my head it is my last year, but I try to take it one day at a time and play like its the last time with my team.”

Iowa was able to pull ahead of Northern Illinois late in the game last year when running back Damon Bullock reeled off a 23-yard touchdown run with fewer than three minutes remaining to give the Black and Gold the win at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Bullock finished the game with 150 yards on 30 carries, but it’s unlikely he’ll see the same number of touches this time around. He’s listed as the co-starter at running back alongside Mark Weisman, and after that duo, Iowa has a stable of capable running backs left with Jordan Canzeri, Michael Malloy, and true freshman LeShun Daniels.

The junior said he may see some plays at wide receiver during Saturday’s contest and noted that defeating Northern Illinois a year ago doesn’t give him any added confidence, because it’s a new game, new year.

“Last year was last year,” Bullock said. “We have to focus on the new game — it’s going to be a new environment and everything. Luckily, we got away with it last year; we’re going to try to do the same thing this year.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz echoed the running back’s comments, saying despite his squad’s success against Northern Illinois a year ago, no game the Hawks will play this year is more important than another.

“To me every opener is important just like every game, and football is different from basketball or baseball where you’re playing a lot of games,” Ferentz said. “Football, you only get 12 shots, so every game really is critical; from that standpoint, you have to value the importance of every game.

“So to portray this as the Normandy invasion is not quite that level of importance, but it’s an important game. I think it’s important for every team playing right now. If you’re in college football you’ve got 12 shots; you’d better be ready every time you get a chance to go to the bat.”


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