While South Carolina isn't his home state like it is for teammates Travis Williams and Leon Hart, Irons did play for the Gamecocks before transferring to Auburn. That alone makes this a big game for the Dacula, Ga., native because of the familiar faces across the field.
"If you get too pumped up and over-excited that's when you mess up," Irons says. "I just want to take it like every other game, like Mississippi State or Ball State or Western Kentucky. To be able to know the defense. The great thing is that I know most of the guys on the defense. It's going to be all fun and games, just have a great time."
Close friends Ryan Brown, Ricardo Hurley and Lance Laury will all be trying to tackle Irons from their linebacker positions come Saturday night while offensive tackles Jabari Levey and Na'Shan Goddard will watch with interest what could have been had Irons stayed with South Carolina. Irons said that it's going to be a special night getting to see all of his friends once again.
Kenny Irons earned Auburn's starting tailback job two weeks ago and has back-to-back 100-yard games since.
"I'm friend with a lot of guys," Irons says. "Blake Mitchell, Ike Crofoot, Chas Crofoot's brother. We used to hang out a lot. They've been e-mailing me. Big Jobar (Levey) e-mailed me the other day and said ‘Man are you ready?' I was like ‘I'm ready man, it's going to be exciting.' It's going to be great."
Directed by running backs coach Eddie Gran not to go into detail about South Carolina for fear that he would give the Gamecocks bulletin board material, Irons instead chose to remember the players that he's ready to see again during Saturday night's ESPN2 game. What he didn't know is that older brother David Irons, one of Auburn's starting cornerbacks, let everybody know how much Kenny is dying to play this game. As if it wasn't known already, David says that Kenny has been a different person the closer the South Carolina game gets to kickoff, but he isn't scared to help that process along by needling his younger brother.
"It started last week really," David says. "He was just ready for the Western Kentucky game to go by. He's ready for the South Carolina game so bad. He's anxious and so pumped up. I was like ‘this is the team that when I called you from my junior college you were on the sidelines with a towel on your head.' I was like ‘this is the team that wouldn't let you play. Skip Holtz wouldn't let you play in his offense and Lou Holtz was doing you wrong. Basically you were just a practice dummy'."
A starter just once in his two seasons in Columbia, Irons rushed for 201 yards on 47 carries as a freshman, but those numbers dwindled considerably when high school All-American running back Demetris Summers came to town. As a sophomore Irons ran the ball just 19 times for 51 yards, but that was enough to show him he needed to leave town. Now Summers is no longer a Gamecock and Irons is starting at Auburn. While it could be a time to gloat, Irons says that he's just treating this game like any other game in the SEC and that's one you want to win.
"It will be easier (to be up for Saturday)," Irons says. "It's SEC week and you want to win. I want to win. It just feels good to win. After we lost to Georgia Tech and being in the locker room and seeing some of your teammates faces and some guys crying, I was like ‘wow, we lost. We weren't supposed to lose this game.' We want to keep on winning. There is that hunger for more. I just want to win and keep on going."
While that is the politically correct answer from Irons, there is little doubt this game takes on a special meaning for a player felt slighted by Holtz and the former South Carolina coaching staff. Now with the chance to prove his doubters wrong for the first time, Irons says that he might have a little extra this week when the Gamecocks come to town.
"You could say it's a little different," Irons says. "I'm still going to have that urgency like I do every week just to run hard. Maybe this week run a little harder. I'll put a little more on the table, but just because it's a SEC game. Like coach said, we're trying to get to Atlanta. We want to get back to Atlanta. We're on a mission and South Carolina in on that road to our mission. We've got to tackle this game and get ready for the next."