More specifically Kirksey spent his 2010 freshman season on the punt return team, and he'll never forget the fourth quarter against the University of Wisconsin.
"That's a tough memory," said Kirksey. "You don't forget plays like that."
It's been the lasting memory of a series that has been on hiatus since 2010 – punter Brad Nortman running a fake with no Iowa player in sight of him. It resulted in a 17-yard gain that gave Wisconsin a critical first down on its game-winning touchdown drive in a 31-30 victory, and a play Kirksey didn't see because he running downfield with his attention on his returner.
"Just to see them make that play was crazy," said Kirksey, who will get his chance for a measure of redemption when No.22 Wisconsin travels to Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa this Saturday. "It was a sickening feeling. You just wish you could stop time and have a chance to think about what happened. You want to play it back. To lose after that was the worse feeling in the world."
Wisconsin had been utilizing a spread-out punt formation throughout the season and recognized that there might be an opportunity to run a fake punt against the Hawkeyes, who had seldom rushed the punter that season and through the first three quarters that afternoon.
So despite being on its own 26-yard line, trailing 30-24 with 6:25 to go, UW knew the play was going to work.
"That was one of the fakes we put in that week because of what they did," said senior left tackle Ryan Groy, who was one of the blockers in the punt wedge formation. "We ran out on to the field with the coaches warning us the fake could be called. We got there, they gave me the go ahead, I called it to everybody, snapped it and Nortman ran right by me before falling on his face. It was great."
Although the programs are an even 42-42-2 in a series that dates back to 1894, the 2010 game was a defining moment in the direction of the two programs. Since walking off the field with the Heartland Trophy, the Badgers have gone 28-12 overall and won three straight Big Ten championships.
Iowa on the other hand is 19-22 over that same time frame, finished dead last in the Legends Division last season and saw its 5-1 start to the 2010 season finish 8-5, losing four games by four points or less.
"Having that feeling, that bad taste in your mouth, and now playing them again, especially my senior year, what game can you ask for?" said Kirksey. "It's a rematch, a trophy game and a rivalry. Iowa and Wisconsin has been banging heads for a long time. It's never a throw-out game or rarely a blowout. It's always a close game. I'm looking forward to it."
While Iowa ranks second-to-last in the league in scoring offense (27.4 points per game) and ninth in total offense (397.6 yards per game), the Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) are winning because their defense has held four opponents to two scores or less, are third in the conference in total defense (320.5 yards per game) and second in pass defense (191.9 per game).
Kirksey is one of the key pieces of that unit, as the senior is 12th in the Big Ten in tackles per game, averaging 7.6 stops. He's proven to be a nice compliment to Anthony Hitchens (second in the league at 9.9) and James Morris (ninth at 7.9).
"I think I have matured a lot," Kirksey said. "Coming in as a 190-pound linebacker and now I am 230, that's a tremendous leap. Just my overall knowledge of the game, knowing where I am supposed to be, watching guys do what they do and understanding all the schemes, I really have become a student of a game." Not only has Kirksey matured as a player, he's been forced to quickly mature as a leader. Named a team captain last season and a starter for the last 33 games, Kirksey has been one of players trying to erase the sting of a 4-8 2012 season.
"You have to put it on your shoulders, especially being one of the most experienced guys," said Kirksey. "I've been there before, so (the seniors) want to keep the team encouraged. When you face adversity, how do you respond to it? You have to put it on your shoulders being a leader, especially being a linebacker. Linebacker is a great position to go out there and lead for the young guys."
Iowa and Wisconsin won't have to worry about two year hiatuses between them anymore. With Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten next season, the conference's divisions will be realigned, meaning the Hawkeyes and the Badgers will be playing one another every season, including the Badgers returning to Iowa next Nov.22.
No matter where the game is, it's a game that both sides are anxious to resume.
"You always want to have big games that challenge yourself," Kirksey said. "To see a great team like Wisconsin that you are facing, it sees what you are made about. When it's a trophy game it's even bigger. Wisconsin and Iowa aren't that far apart from each other, so it'll be a great game and a great environment. It feels good to be able to play them again."