ORLANDO, Fla. — Corvey Irvin didn’t quite know what to expect when his senior year took an unexpected turn.
It was the first game of the season and the Georgia defense’s first series when star defensive tackle Jeff Owens went down with an injury. The prognosis from the beginning didn’t look good, and official word after that game against Georgia Southern confirmed it. Owens was out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The blow was huge for a Georgia team that expected a lot out of Owens. The injury, however, opened the door for Irvin to showcase his talents after being a virtual unknown last season.
“I knew somebody had to step up,” Irvin said. “(Head coach Mark Richt) told me he needed me because the best player we had went down.”
Filling the void created by Owens’ injury was no small task. Irvin, a transfer from Georgia Military College, had only one year with the Bulldogs under his belt, making the task even tougher.
When Irvin joined the Bulldogs just before last season, he said he was treated differently right away by his teammates. He noticed there was some resentment that stemmed from being a junior college transfer.
“Division I guys really don’t respect junior college guys offhand when they first see them,” Irvin said. “I don’t believe any of the guys respected me when I first got here. You’ve got to earn your respect around here. But that’s a good thing, you know what I mean? They loved me, but they didn’t know what I could do.”
The Bulldogs found out almost as soon as Irvin stepped into Owens’ starting position. Irvin has totaled 31 tackles and two sacks this season while also accounting for 23 quarterback hurries. Failing to get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a big concern from Georgia’s defensive line this season, but Irvin has been able to do what he can with his limited starting experience.
His 6-foot-4, 292-pound frame automatically makes opposing offensive lines take notice, and Irvin has certainly seen his share of double teams this season, which has helped open things up more for his defensive teammates. He said toward the end of the season he began to notice more and more double teams coming his way. He’s not sure if that’s a sign of respect from his opponents, but if that’s the consensus, he’s completely fine with it.
Perhaps no other player has been more affected by Owens’ injury and Irvin’s surge at the defensive tackle position than Geno Atkins. When Owens went down, Atkins — also a defensive tackle — didn’t know how the rest of the defensive line would react. He figured it would be pretty easy to become sullen and feel defeated by losing such a forceful player, but Irvin helped fill the other hole the loss of Owens created.
Irvin watched for an entire season as Owens exhibited the qualities of a true leader. Soaking in as much of that knowledge as he could, Irvin, when he got his shot to start, made it a point to exhibit those same qualities to help pump up the defensive line because of the loss of Owens.
“I just watched him as he led us when he first got here,” Irvin said of Owens. “I learn a lot from Jeff by just being around him. It’s like he kind of grew on me a little bit. He’s a great person, a great personality. I’m just happy for him and me.”
Irvin, like several of his teammates, will be playing in his final game for the Bulldogs when Georgia takes on Michigan State on Thursday in the Capital One Bowl. The feelings are mixed as Irvin is satisfied with what he has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time, but he is unhappy that his time is coming to an end.
His teammates have been quick to get behind Irvin, and they’re hoping he can leave a lasting impression with just 60 more minutes left to play.
“It’s his senior season. You want to leave on a good note, leave on top,” Atkins said. “I think it was very important that he found it in himself to show out and shine.”