BEREA, Ohio -- Every time new Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey stepped onto the football field at the University of Iowa, he carried with him the memory of and lessons learned from his father, Elmer, whom he lost heading into his freshman year of college.
The elder Kirksey suffered a stroke during Christian's senior year of high school, and at 58 years old, succumbed to the complications. But before he passed away, Elmer Kirksey taught his son how to be a leader.
"It comes from just looking up to my father, and just seeing the type of man he was and the type of things he did and the way he carried himself," Kirksey recalled after the Browns selected him with the 71st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft Friday.
"I just always looked up to that, and he just always told me to be myself, be proud of who you are. I just try to help other people, just show people how to live off the field and on the field. My dad really instilled that in me just to let your personality spread out to others. That's the reason why I am who I am today and the reason why I have these leadership skills."
According to Kirksey, leading men is something his father wanted for him all along.
"My dad was a pastor, so he instilled a lot in me through church," Kirksey said. "Just watching him, and the type of man he was, and the way he led his church, led his people, he just wanted me to do the same thing, whether it's in church or on the football field. I wanted to do it just like he would."
In addition to his statistics, Kirksey served as a two-year captain of the Hawkeyes' defense and was named one of the recipients of the Hayden Fry "Extra Heartbeat" Award, which is given annually to the Iowa player(s) who have shown "outstanding leadership and dedication throughout the year."
It is that type of leadership that the Browns were looking for out of their newest inside linebacker.
"I believe he was a two-year captain," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "Those are the things you're looking for, a guy that's had that success, the intangible stuff, and I know it's cliché and we say it over and over again, but we truly look for those attributes.
"He loves football, and that comes across very clearly when you talk to him. That's one of the reasons why we were thrilled to turn the card in."