While starters Kevin Hobbs and Montae Pitts return a year wiser and stronger, junior college transfer David Irons is finally ready to challenge them for the job after three long years trying to become eligible to play for Auuburn after a standout career at Dacula High in Georgia.
A top running back prospect three years ago, Irons signed with the Tigers, but didn't make it academically and he enrolled at Butler County Community College in Kansas. Following a redshirt year and his freshman season, Irons was all set to enroll in Auburn last fall, but a few points in an English class at Southern Union in Opelika forced him to go back to Butler County for his sophomore season.
Now fully qualified, Irons said his first day on the practice field on Sunday was everything he hoped it would be.
"Really I couldn't believe it," Irons said. "I've been back at junior college for three years and I thought I was going to be here in 2001. I felt like, ‘Dang, I'm really on the field with college guys?' I'm still getting used to it. I was a little nervous at first and trying to learn the defensive system, but I'm getting the hang of it. I was kind of hesitating so my breaks weren't on point, but hopefully in a few days it will feel natural to me."
David Irons in his first practice as an Auburn Tiger.
A 6-1, 183-pounder, Irons was a standout at Butler County as a sophomore despite most teams throwing away from him. He helped lead his team to the NJCAA National Championship with 59 tackles and three interceptions. As a freshman he had 45 tackles and two interceptions. Irons said the experience of playing in a good juco league should help him make the transition as will playing in a similar defense at Butler County.
"It helps me a lot because I know most of the defense," Irons said. "In junior college we did some of the same stuff, but with different techniques than what we did. I'm used to being on the field and being active and running around. Now I'm going against bigger and faster competition and I'm older and more mature. I want to get better with my techniques. Coach Chizik is a great coach and once he helps me get my technique down I'll be fine."
While he is in a battle for a starting job, Irons said that he's been impressed by everyone's willingness to help him learn the defense and techniques required to play for Chizik in the secondary. Irons specifically singled out Rogers and Junior Rosegreen as guys that have been willing to go the extra mile to help him when he needs it.
"It's great to have a leader, a guy that has been there a while and knows the system," Irons said of Rogers. "He's on the other side, but he can tell me what I did wrong, what mistakes I made and what I did right. I can go to him with my problems and ask him how I can fix that because he's been there.
"I also have Coach Chizik to turn to and he's a great coach. They finished fifth in the nation last year in defense so he knows what he's doing. It's good that I can learn little things I don't know and Carlos will tell me to calm down because sometimes I'm too fast out of my breaks. I need to learn to slow down sometimes to keep under control."
No matter how things work out this spring there is little doubt that Irons will not keep pushing until his goal of becoming the starter becomes a reality. Showing the perseverance necessary to succeed in life and on the football field, Irons has the attitude of a winner of a player ready to go to great lengths to make sure the Tigers are winners in 2004.
"I love challenges," Irons said. "I get to come in here and compete with guys that last year were starting. I have two guys in front of me right now and they are great players. It's now up to who is going to win the battle and I know my skills and I know what I can do. I'm going to give it all I've got and leave it all on the field."