The Kid Gets His Chance to Shine

ATHENS – Corvey Irvin doesn't see the sun rise often these days. Running is reserved for practice and conditioning, not early morning wake-up calls. Shaving in the morning would simply take away from his grizzled look.

Irvin has also traded in his intricately polished military boots for a pair of orange sneakers. The casual footwear, however, still maintains a bright shine.

Some habits are hard to break, but the senior defensive tackle has worked hard to put the regimented lifestyle he lived at Georgia Military College behind him.

"Waking up early in the morning at 5 o'clock, going to run, shaving, wearing a uniform every day, shining my shoes, keeping my room clean, just getting fussed at for nothing," Irvin said, "I wasn't used to that."

Georgia wasn't used to recruiting junior college transfers either, but as it turned out, Irvin and the Bulldogs had complimentary interests. Georgia needed help on the defensive line. Irvin needed a chance to get out of a military uniform and into a Bulldogs jersey.

So after the 2006 season, Georgia landed Irvin, along with defensive end Jarius Wynn and left guard Vince Vance as transfers, and Saturday, all three are likely to be in the starting lineup.

"They took a chance, and they won the lottery when they got us," Irvin said. "I don't know if they're going back down there to get anybody else, but I'm glad they came and got us."

The lottery joke is only partially in jest. The truth is, for so many junior college transfers to contribute so much at a school like Georgia is rare.

Off the field, the stigma is persistent. People assume players are at Georgia Military because they couldn't stay out of trouble, and they figure trouble will find them again without that regimented lifestyle.

On the field, the difference in the level of play from junior college to the SEC is often too much for a player to handle. By the time players grasp the playbook and lifestyle at a place like Georgia, they've exhausted their eligibility and are ready to move on.

"You know you want to do things a certain way, we call it the Georgia way," head coach Mark Richt said. "It takes time to figure it out. Even if you're a more mature kid, it's still new to you, and you're almost like a freshman."

It took time for Irvin, too.

Athens was nothing like the lifestyle he lived at Georgia Military. The campus was huge, with thousands more people and far less supervision.

The playbook was brutal. At Georgia Military, playing on the defensive line was simple. Coaches simply told them to run left or right, Wynn said. Learning the nuance of the Bulldogs' defense was a daunting task.

Something else nagged at Irvin, too. At Georgia Military, he had been a star player, but he had never been a leader. He just didn't fit the bill. He hadn't bought in to the program.

"The military stuff was getting on my nerves," Irvin said. "I used to kind of get in trouble a little bit, so that's why I think they didn't vote me a leader. I was fresh out of high school. I didn't think I was going to sign up for the military, but we had to do military stuff. But I never complained or wondered why I wasn't captain. When they kicked off, I was ready to play ball."

At Georgia, however, Irvin wanted more. There, the work on the field was more difficult, and he wanted to make up for it by improving his game off the field.

He listened to coaches. When he failed, he worked harder. This time, he bought in.

"They wanted to do it the right way," Richt said of Irvin and his fellow Georgia Military transfers. "They wanted to do it the Georgia way. They just couldn't get enough of what we wanted them to do."

The process wasn't simple for Irvin. Last year, he earned sporadic playing time – totaling just 12 tackles all season. He was out of shape, Richt said, and he was behind on the learning curve.

More importantly, Irvin felt overshadowed by his more experienced teammates like defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Kade Weston. The Bulldogs were their team, not his.

"I was new here, they already had several leaders," Irvin said. "That was those guys team. I played my role. I didn't want to step on anybody's toes. But I said, my senior year, I'm going to come out to work hard so when it's time for me to step up and do what I need to do, I'll be ready."

Irvin worked tirelessly over the offseason. He improved his strength, got in better shape, memorized the playbook.

He looked sharp in spring drills and impressed so much in fall camp that line coach Rodney Garner decided to name Irvin a starter at defensive tackle.

"I think I started to see it come on at the tail end of the season, him becoming more vocal," Garner said. "He had a good spring. He had a good fall camp. In fact, he was actually going to be the starter over Geno (Atkins) in the first game until he went out there last week and had a couple bad practices."

A week of lackluster performances at the end of camp made Irvin the first starter never to start a game, Garner said.

It wasn't that Irvin didn't look good. It was that he wasn't doing things the way Garner wanted. He was being asked to play a style he didn't like, and he wasn't buying in.

"He has to learn to be willing to get in there and take on the double teams and split the double team blocks and do those dirty work type of jobs," Garner said. "Not everybody likes that, probably not many people like it, but that's what you've got to do with that role."

So Irvin didn't hear his name announced with the starters when Georgia opened its season against Georgia Southern last Saturday. It didn't take long, however, for him to find his way onto the field.

Early in the first quarter, Owens injured his knee. The vocal leader of the Bulldogs' defense, the player who more than anyone else had bought into the system, limped off the field, while Irvin ran in to take his place.

Irvin didn't know it at the time, but that would be the last game Owens would play this season. Instead, Irvin simply tried to play the way Owens would have. He ended the game as the team's leader in tackles, adding a sack and two tackles-for-a-loss.

"For him to have the confidence as a second-year guy to be a leader, that's a tribute to him," Richt said. "But you gain confidence by preparing, and that's what he's done. If you watch the film, he stood out. He was stellar. He finished."

When the news came a day later that Owens would not return to action this season, Irvin knew the Bulldogs were now his team. The injury to Owens made him a starter, but Irvin insists he wants to use the opportunity to be a leader as well.

"I just said, with Jeff gone, I'm going to play this for Jeff," Irvin said. "I'm going to play like it's his last one."

It's a role that Irvin hadn't envisioned for himself, but one his teammates knew he was capable of filling all along.

In fact, Owens said Irvin had already been leading by example.

"No doubt in my mind he can do it," Owens said. "As a matter of fact, I look up to Corvey. He might not know it, but he pushes me. We both motivate each other. I know he's going to take over my role and be a leader of this defense."

Irvin still rooms with Wynn, his former teammate at Georgia Military, but he doesn't feel the need to clean up as regularly.

"When he does clean it, the room is real clean," Wynn said. "But when the room's junky, it's junky."

The beard came back quickly, too. He's as proficient at growing facial hair as he is at tormenting offensive linemen, he said.

But Irvin hasn't forgotten the journey it took to get to Georgia, and he knows the road he traveled made him the player he is today. When he takes the field Saturday for the first time as a starter, he'll be ready because of what he learned shining his boots at night and running for miles at the crack of dawn.

"I learned a lot from those coaches like never talk back, always work hard and, whatever you do, just finish," Irvin said. "That started at G.M.C., and when I got to Georgia, I saw they did it a similar way. I already had it in me."

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