Saturday was an eventful day for the South Carolina football program. Beginning with the Lou Holtz…
Irons On A Mission: Prepared To Forge Ahead
As a senior footballer in Dacula, GA, Irons was rated the 14th finest running back in the country by Prep Star, who also named him an All-American. The Sporting News named him one of the Top 25 at his position in the U.S. of A., and the Atlanta Journal Constitution honored him as one of the Top 11 football players in the state of Georgia. Kenny Irons rushed for 1,985 yards during his senior season in high school, against some of the best competition in the Southeastern United States.
"Forget about that," Irons said when we caught up with him after Wednesday's practice. "I learned real quick that none of that matters once you get to this level."
'This level,' is SEC football.
"Kenny played against good competition here in Georgia," David Irons, Sr. reminded us when we caught up with him by phone. "The football played down here is not like a lot of places around the country. This is some of the toughest competition anywhere."
The senior Irons would know. Not only is the Irons family legendary as one of the more genetically gifted football families in the history of modern American football, (cousins Grant Irons played at Notre Dame, his brother Jarrett Irons was an All-American at Michigan and another of their brothers, Gerald, Jr., played football at Nebraska. Their father Gerald, Sr., played at Maryland-Eastern Shore, then spent six years with NFL Oakland Raiders and four with Cleveland Browns as linebacker.),(and Kenny's older brother David, Jr. is a cornerback at Auburn.), but David Irons, Sr. also runs a heralded camp for high school and college football players in Georgia each summer - a camp that sees SEC caliber talent coming through the Irons' doors on a daily basis.
"Kenny played against good competition his whole life," the Senior Irons reiterated. "But that didn't matter once he got to the SEC ... just ask Kenny."
(As the story goes Dacula was facing Shiloe in the Georgia state playoffs and leading. Both Kenny and his older brother David, Jr. had rushed for over 100 yards in the game. About that time the Shiloe fullback, a player by the name of David Pollack, broke through the line of scrimmage up the middle and proceeded to carry four future division one defenders up the field on his back to put Shiloe in position for the winning score. Irons remembers it well, "It was My brother Davis, Dez Williams, O.C. Collins and T.J. Stanley - and Pollack must have carried them up the field for 40 yards like it was nothing. Hey, that impressed me.") **************
So Kenny was not surprised when he ran into Pollack two years later in Columbia.
"That's right," Kenny said. "I mean we were playing Georgia last year and (David) Pollack was sort of stood up you know? He was being blocked pretty good but he managed to stick his arm out there and spin me around. Now that got me to thinking! Hey, that had never happened before. I had always been a power back but Pollack spun me around like nothing. Right then I knew I had some work to do. I said to myself, 'whoa, what's this all about,' and I knew right then I was surrounded by big time football."
So work he has, and people that matter are noticing.
"He left at a 195 after Spring ball and he is back at 208," his position Coach Dave Roberts told us. "He is really in tremendous physical condition. His work ethic is really improved. He has always had good elusiveness but he came back mentally and physically prepared and ready to go ... and right now I am telling you he is running as the clear number one.
Irons, unlike many of his teammates, went home to work out over the summer rather than staying on campus and working out with the team.
"Nothing against my teammates or anything like that," Kenny said. "It's just that I knew I needed to be where I could focus and get ready for this season. Whenever you are facing a big challenge you always need support and the best place to always get that is with my family."
His Dad agreed. "I was glad he came home. I wanted him to come home because I knew and he knew we would work him harder down here and work on his weaknesses more than they would be able to do in an unsupervised situation up there. This was an important summer for Kenny - he worked hard."
Part of the plan included working with a personal trainer involved with his Dad's camp Kenny told us.
"Ryan Golden works with my Dad and I respect him a lot," said Kenny. "One of the things he really stresses in addition to strength and endurance is resistance. That is how he trains you."
Another thing that the younger Irons readily admits that he needed to work on, was his blocking skills.
"You can't really go out over the summer and practice your blocking at the speed you'll see it in games. But what you can do is work on the muscle groups that you use to block and that will help you come game time, so that's what I did."
Were the coaches happy to see Irons return heavier, adding almost 15 pounds of muscle?
"There is no question about that," Coach Roberts told us enthusiastically. "We're excited about what he has done so far and his work ethic. Obviously being a young back, he's got some improving to do but he is striving to do it and we recognize that in Kenny."
"I don't think there is any question that Kenny has what it takes to be a featured tailback in the SEC. He has excellent speed. We have asked him to be physical - he knows what we expect of him ... we expect good things from Kenny Irons this season."
"Yes Sir," Irons began when asked about Coach Roberts, his second position coach in two years, the third in three years for the Gamecocks. "Coach Roberts asks us to be physical. In the past we were mainly worried about holding onto the ball and not fumbling. But Coach Roberts demands we do that without it having to be said. Instead he wants us to focus on being physical. I think everyone knows that, it goes without saying that, we have to hold onto that football."
With that Kenny seemed to change gears - he knows there has been a lot of talk about other talent, newer more heralded prospects entering the mix this season. Practically everyone that interviews him these days asks him the question or asks him to make the comparison - and it was clearly on his mind - he was expecting it from us as well.
That's why we chose not to. Instead Irons offered the following on his own.
"I know what people are saying. What they don't realize is that I have waited my turn and worked hard to get here. I'm not running away from anything. If another back gets his shot and breaks away for a long one I will be the first one there to congratulate him. And if I break away for a long one I hope the other backs on this team will be there to congratulate me. That's all that's really important to me ... is that we are breaking off long runs as a team and making things happen. I want all of us to be play-makers."
"Last year my weakness wasn't just blocking. I had other weaknesses too. I think there were times when I may have not put out 110% like I should have. You may not have seen it on the field but I know in my head it may have happened once or twice ... mostly in practice I think. This year is going to be different. I have dedicated myself to never taking a play off. I want to be the best I can be and live up to my potential. As long as I give it my all then I will be able to live with myself - I don't want any doubts in my mind when the clock runs out. If I do that I'll meet my goals of a 100 yards a game, and of taking no plays off ... and I'll help my team at the same time. That's what's really important - doing whatever it takes to help the team."
Whatever it takes? Anything?
"Yes sir, anything. If that means moving me to cornerback or wide receiver or whatever I don't care. I'll do whatever it takes to help this football team. Now don't get me wrong 'cause I have no intention of having to be moved, make sure everyone understands that. But in my heart the most important thing to me is helping my team."
And with that, prompted by our line of questioning, Kenny "Waffle House" Irons turned his attention to another subject.
"Nicknames?" he asked. "Waffle House? Yes Sir, they call me that and 'The Franchise.' I think they call me Waffle House because once I step on the football field I keep servin' it up 24/7."
We asked about some of the others and Kenny graciously obliged. It was a chance to have fun in an interview for a change. He began with a slight chuckle ...
"Darrell Shropshire, he's like 'Head Buster,' 'Head Splitter,' and sometimes we call him 'Big Country' too.
"Daccus, he's 'D-Train'."
"Regis Edgerson is just 'Gegerson'." (Pronounced jej-er-sin)
"Troy is 'T-Roy'. But sometimes we call Troy 'Natural' too because he has the natural ability to fly. I mean whatever he runs, it's like world class or something. He can fly."
"Travelle is 'Baby'."
"(Marcus) Lawrence is 'Truck' because when he hits you you feel like you have been run over by one.
"Jermaine Harris is 'Big Bird'."
"Ricardo ... we call him 'Do-Hurl' because when he hits people he's like knockin' people out and when they wake up the first thing they want to DO is HURL."
This season Kenny has his possey as roommates. Four players who have committed themselves to helping each other have a great season. They intend to push one another during the long weeks and through the wear and tear of the SEC rigors.
"Ah, yeah, it's me, Troy, Regis and Andre Hemphill. We're good friends. We'll have fun rooming together this season."
It was time for another oft-repeated question. What happened last year?
"The team was unbalanced," Kenny responded without hesitation. "We had no team unity. Some of the upperclassmen, particularly some of the seniors, and some of the freshmen didn't get along with each other. We sort of clashed at times."
Is that a problem this year?
"No sir. Not at all. This year we have different leadership and it is making all the difference in the world. They are all different, they all have their own way of leading, but they are all effective at what they do."
"Well take Travelle for instance. He's back because he has unfinished business to take care of and that's the only reason. It's not because of where he was going to be drafted it's because he wanted to be here with us and that means a lot to us. That is a leadership statement in itself."
"Then there is Dunta. He makes people want to come up to play at his level."
"Jeremiah, he'll talk a little trash to you to get you fired up but he does it one on one. He's not one of these guys that is going to say anything like that to you in public, but he'll pull you to the side and get you fired up and he is good at that."
"Laury, he is one of those guys that you watch his actions and you try to do like he does. He is always going full speed ... one of those lead by example guys you know."
"Jermaine Harris has his place too. I mean if one of us are really worn down you know. Maybe something has happened and one of us are feeling down about something ... you can always count on Jermaine to tell a joke or do something funny to make you feel more comfortable."
"We have good chemistry," Irons said after painting the picture. "We have good balance."
So with that we ended with our standard departing question. Which game does he consider the most important?
"Georgia. I'm from there so that's just me. I mean they are all important but I would like to go down there and beat them this year," Irons said before having to leave to head to the post practice chow hall.
We suspect most Gamecock fans would agree.
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