Cody Kirk loves the blues.
He gets his feet moving, his head turns on a swivel and he enters a zone.
It’s not a musical one, though.
“It’s a mentality thing where you just gotta get in the end zone,” explains Kirk, Montana State’s standout senior running back from Frenchtown and the Big Sky Conference’s scoring leader.
“We talk about getting in the blue over here,” he adds, referring to the color of the end zones at Bobcat Stadium. “It’s just a will thing. No matter what, I’m getting in that blue. And you just fight and fight. Sometimes you don’t get in and that’s a (bad) feeling. When you get in, though, it’s awesome.”
Kirk, whose 13th-ranked Bobcats play host to fifth-ranked Montana in the 113th Brawl of the Wild at 12:10 p.m. Saturday, has been in the end zone more than any other player in the Big Sky this season. He has piled up 18 TDs and four two-point conversion runs.
“His gift for finding the end zone is very special,” MSU coach Rob Ash said. “He has a tenacity about him to keep plugging away, breaking tackles, rolling off people, doing whatever it takes. It’s really a unique talent.”
Like a lot of successful college scatbacks, Kirk has a good blend of strength and quickness. Yet it’s his toughness – an inner drive to produce despite all the nicks and bruises that go with the territory – that is perhaps most impressive.
Kirk is not 100 percent heading into Saturday’s game. He is hampered by a leg injury.
But that’s never stopped him before.
“Shoot, it’s Cat-Griz, best day of the year,” he gushed. “It’s like Christmas for a lot of us.”
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Kirk has spent countless hours improving himself physically in the weight room. But you could argue he came to Montana State with a nose for the end zone. Over his career he has racked up a school-record 47 touchdowns.
“It’s a balance of sometimes you have to hit it quick and sometimes you have to be patient down there,” he explained. “It’s really tough to be patient, but sometimes you have to.
“Sometimes you have to find that little crease, other times it’s like, ‘Oh, I just better run.’ But it’s always a dogfight.”
Asked if he’s developed any tricks that make him so effective in short-yardage situations, Kirk chuckled.
“I just do whatever it takes to get in,” he said. “We talk about getting five more (yards) after contact. That really applies to the goal line. Get hit and keep worming and fighting your way and you’ll get in there eventually. Just keep those legs driving.”
Despite all of their efforts – the Cats came within a point of upsetting the FBS Mustangs of SMU back in December – Kirk and the Bobcats (7-4) find themselves with their backs against the wall. Win on Saturday and they’ll likely earn a fourth straight trip into the FCS playoffs. Lose and they’ll watch the postseason unfold on television.
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In his four-year playing career, Kirk had never experienced back-to-back losses until this month. The setback at Eastern Washington on Nov. 9 wasn’t nearly as hard to take as last week’s home loss to Southern Utah.
“You have to come out quick, bring it out of the gate,” said Kirk, whose team spotted the Thunderbirds a 15-0 lead en route to a 22-14 loss. “Obviously it’s not hard to bring it out of the gate in Cat-Griz, but it’s just a good reminder you really have to bring the noise and be ready to come out firing.
“It took us four quarters to have a sense of urgency Saturday, which is something we didn’t need to have going on for us. We have to get stuff done early.”
Win or lose, Saturday will likely mark Kirk’s final Cat-Griz encounter. The game has been a big part of his life since he was a kid.
“I remember watching us, the Cats, end the streak,” he said of a game in 2002 in which Montana’s string of 16 straight wins over MSU was snapped. “I remember just being at my house and my cousins were there and the snow and I remember the Missoulian’s title that day was ‘Snow Joke.’
“That’s something that always stuck with me. I remember I kept that up above my bed for two or three years.”
The weather has often been a storyline in the Brawl of the Wild and it certainly factored into Montana State’s situation last week when snow dumped on Bobcat Stadium shortly before the game. This Saturday will be different, with highs in the 40s. That may help the Cats’ passing game with Texas native DeNarius McGhee at the controls and Kirk included in a stable of solid receivers.
“There’s only been really one significant game where I felt like the cold affected me and that was Cat-Griz four years ago up in Missoula,” Kirk related. “That was miserable. It was so cold your cleats would freeze.
“Other than that, if you’re in the 10- to 30-degree range it’s not bad. You’re out there running and staying warm. It doesn’t really affect you.”
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One of Kirk’s endearing qualities as an athlete is his perspective. He has maintained a strong friendship with childhood pal Jordan Tripp despite the fact the latter is a standout senior linebacker for Montana.
“One of our rules during the season is we don’t talk about football,” Kirk said. “That’s helped out. I come home, we’ll hang out and do stuff.
“It’s just respect for each other. We’ve been through a lot and had a lot of fun growing up. It’s Cat-Griz and it’s a big game, a big week, but the game is three hours. I’m not going to let that ruin a friendship I’ll have the rest of my life.”
Just like last year, you can pretty much bet Kirk and Tripp will get together to talk after Saturday’s game and maybe even pose for a photo one last time in their respective uniforms.
“It’s just cool for both of us to go and play in that game,” Kirk offered. “Cool to be on our respected sides just like we were growing up.
“It’s very exciting, really a privilege to play in the game.”
QUICK KICKS: Kirk needs two touchdowns to tie the MSU record for most in a season (20) ... Kirk’s career rushing total of 3,373 yards is 273 shy of the school record and his 16 career 100-yard games is one short of Ryan Johnson’s school record ... Kirk is 2-1 against Montana and rushed for a team-high 55 yards in last year’s 16-7 win in Missoula ... UM coach Mick Delaney said Wednesday that running back Travon Van and fullback Jamal Wilson, who have been sidelined with ankle injuries, looked good in practice Tuesday.