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September 14, 2006

Auburn's David Irons battled his way to top

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Auburn cornerback David Irons considers himself the Southeastern Conference's greatest trash talker.

The senior All-America candidate believes playing mind games helps the Tigers win football games. That's why he starts insulting an opposing receiver almost as soon as they line up for the opening snap.

"I'll talk about their girlfriends, their mamas," Irons said. "I'll tell them, 'You're a 4.7 or 4.8 guy. I don't even have to run my 4.3.' I'll just tell them stuff like that to get them off their game."

No matter what Irons says, he's heard worse.

The best shutdown cornerback in the SEC spent his entire life hearing he didn't have what it takes to play big-time college football.

He was told he'd never graduate from high school, let alone college.

"I fought that," said Irons, the older brother of Auburn teammate and fellow All-America candidate Kenny Irons. "I fought a lot of things. I just kept on fighting."

Irons had to keep on fighting just to live to see his first birthday.

He was only a few weeks old when he developed an allergic reaction to the soy in his milk. The reaction caused him to stay three days in an intensive care unit.

"He actually stopped breathing at one point," said Irons' father, David Irons Sr., "He had to be revived."

The adversity continued throughout his childhood.

In grade school, Irons was diagnosed as perceptionally impaired, which prevented him from learning at the same rate as his peers. Irons said the learning disability stems from that allergic reaction in his infancy.

"When you have a learning disability, there's nothing anyone can make you do to learn faster," Irons' father said. "It's not that David doesn't learn. He gets it eventually. He just gets it at a slower pace."

That didn't stop Irons from getting teased.

Irons continually heard that he was a good athlete who couldn't hack it academically. Instead of getting down on himself, Irons used the criticism as motivation.

Sharing the spotlight
David Irons doesn't mind the fact that he isn't the best-known Auburn football player in his family.

The former high school tailback and current senior defensive back now watches his younger brother, Kenny, earn the headlines as the reigning Southeastern Conference rushing champion. Kenny reached stardom at Auburn after two disappointing seasons at South Carolina.

"I want the spotlight to be on him," David Irons said. "He needs it to build his self esteem again. There was a time when Kenny was down on himself, and nobody was talking about him. It's good for him to have this.

"I'm used to having the press and this and that from when I was a running back. You don't really talk to the corner unless your team is doing really good and they figure out who the shutdown corner is. That's when your name comes up. Eventually people will start to talk, and people will know about David."

The Irons brothers have found success together after beginning their careers apart David at Butler County (Kan.) Community College and Kenny at South Carolina. They get along so well that they even share a townhouse.

But the man who knows both Irons brothers best of all points out at least a couple of differences between the two siblings.

For one thing, Kenny's more outgoing.

"David has a real laid-back personality off the field," said their father, David Irons Sr. "He's very quiet and withdrawn. On the field, it's like he's in a different element. He's more open and outgoing. Kenny's more outgoing, the life of the party."

And David's the bigger football fan.

"David would watch Arena Football when Arena Football wasn't popular," the elder Irons said. "Kenny loved to play the game, but anything else to do with football, he'd take it or leave it."

Irons Sr. also believes the two former high-school running backs are playing the right positions at Auburn. David Irons Jr. moved to cornerback during his junior-college career.

"David is the type that doesn't like to take punishment, but he likes to dish out punishment," his father said. "I couldn't see him going to the SEC and playing tailback. I couldn't see him being Kenny. Kenny's a guy who takes punishment and loves to dish it out. Kenny can play with a broken finger or a broken hand or a broken leg. He'll try to drag himself to the field and get it done."

His father might not picture him as an SEC tailback, but David Irons has imagined that scenario. In fact, the notorious trash talker occasionally brings that point up to his younger brother.

"I always tell Kenny to this day that if I'd have been starting out at Auburn at running back, he'd have been my backup," David Irons said. "He wasn't better than me in high school."

-Steve Megargee
Although he didn't originally qualify academically at Auburn, Irons has overcome his disability so well that he earned his bachelor's degree in sociology last month.

"It's great to have a degree," Irons said. "Everybody who said, 'You couldn't do it,' I can look in their eyes and say, 'I could do it.' ''

As much as the learning disability hurt him in school, it never bothered him on the football field.

Irons has developed into a smart and talented cornerback who studies the game well enough to contain star receivers such as Washington State's Jason Hill, who caught four passes for 18 yards in a 40-14 loss to Auburn two weeks ago.

"He picks it up the same way he picks it up in the classroom through repetition," David Irons Sr. said. "He can read the playbook and he'll eventually get it, but he's better being physically active in learning the play, being able to watch the film over and over again and going through the play on the practice field."

The only real question surrounding Irons' football ability was whether he should play offense or defense.

Kenny Irons might be the best college running back in the nation right now, but he doesn't own his high school's single-season record for touchdowns.

That honor belongs to David, who reached the end zone 22 times as a star tailback at Dacula (Ga.) High School. He didn't move to cornerback until his freshman year at Butler County (Kan.) Community College.

"There's no doubt in my mind he probably could have been a college running back because of his speed," Dacula coach Kevin Maloof said. "But I think he's playing the best place for him in college. In high school, you've got a guy who runs a 4.4 40 and you want the ball in his hands. In college, you'd better have 4.4 guys at corner.

"I'd have been wasting him as a corner and not having the ball in his hands. I'd have been wasting his talent not playing him in the backfield. But in college, I think he's playing where he needs to be playing."

It's a wonder Irons is playing at all.

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while at Butler County, yet still managed to play two seasons. He tore the same ligament after enrolling at Auburn and had to miss the entire 2004 season.

At least this time he had his brother with him.

After two seasons as a part-time player at South Carolina, Kenny Irons transferred to Auburn and reunited with his older sibling. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville believes Kenny made the move primarily to join his brother.

"I think there was a relationship between him and David and a competition between those two in practice, in weightlifting and in track during high school that he kind of missed," Tuberville said. "He saw an opportunity that, 'I might not fit in here (at South Carolina), and I know where my brother's going. If there's an opportunity, I'd like to have that relationship back because it's not going to be there after the next few years.' ''

The Irons brothers now motivate each other on the sideline when one or the other isn't on the field. The Irons family arguably includes Auburn's best offensive and defensive player.

Kenny Irons earned national acclaim last year by leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing, but David quietly has made a name for himself.

He finished third in the SEC with 11 pass deflections and earned preseason All-America status - along with his younger brother - from Rivals.com. After holding Hill in check during this year's season opener, Irons recorded his first interception last week in a 34-0 triumph over Mississippi State.

Not bad for someone who had to overcome a learning disability and two ACL surgeries.

"We can't put it into words, honestly," Irons Sr. said. "We look at David and hope that people in a similar situation can gain inspiration from him. I can't really describe to you the excitement and joy we have to see him accomplish these goals."

Irons' biggest test comes this weekend against a deep LSU receiving corps that features Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Craig Davis. LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell has completed 70 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception.

This game means even more to Irons because he wants to make amends for what happened last year.

Auburn led 17-14 when a fourth-quarter pass from Russell bounced off Irons' shoulder and landed on the leg of Bowe, who was on the ground at the time. Bowe grabbed the ball for a reception that set up the tying field goal in LSU's 20-17 overtime victory.

Irons has since gotten to know Bowe better and now considers the LSU receiver a good friend, but that won't stop him from delivering the occasional insult this weekend. The chatty cornerback couldn't avoid badmouthing previous opponents as he discussed the upcoming game.

"This is a challenge I look for," Irons said. "Last week, I wasn't really looking forward to that challenge because the Mississippi State wide receivers weren't on my level. The same (with) the Washington State guys. You wake up and dream of going against Bowe, Early Doucet. You dream for those days."

Irons already feels as though he's living a dream.

He has a diploma in his hand and the NFL in his future.

He plays alongside his brother on a national-title contender.

And he can back up just about every boast he makes each Saturday.

All those people who doubted him so long ago now can't remove the smile from his face.

"I'm one of the happiest guys on earth," Irons said.

For more coverage of the Auburn Tigers, check out AuburnSports.com.



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