Bud­dies see per­se­ver­ance pay o≠

While over­com­ing their in­juries, Li­u­fau and Ir­win bonded.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

san an­to­nio» Six months be­fore the quar­ter­back and his blind-side pro­tec­tor cel­e­brated a Pac-12 South Divi­sion ti­tle on the Fol­som Field grass, Sefo Li­u­fau and Jeromy Ir­win were two friends con­fined to a sum­mer in the train­ing room.

“We def­i­nitely spent a lot of time to­gether,” said Ir­win, Colorado’s 6-foot-5, 300-pound left tackle. “We were in there for at least two hours ev­ery day. I’d be work­ing out. He’d be do­ing re­hab on his foot. Me and Sefo, we bonded really well last sum­mer. Be­ing his left tackle, I thought it was pretty ben­e­fi­cial.”

Colorado would not be here on the banks of the River Walk this week, pre­par­ing to play Ok­la­homa State in the Alamo Bowl on Thurs­day, if Li­u­fau hadn’t re­turned from a bro­ken foot and de­liv­ered one clutch per­for­mance after another on the way to a Pac-12 South cham­pi­onship. It’s also fair to won­der whether Li­u­fau would have been able to cap his ca­reer the way he did if his train­ing-room buddy hadn’t worked dili­gently through his own re­cov­ery.

Dur­ing the Buf­faloes’ sec­ond game last sea­son, Ir­win suf­fered a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, end­ing his sea­son. He had al­ready missed his true sopho­more sea­son in 2013, when a bro­ken bone in his foot re­fused to heal. Ir­win thought he’d re­cover from the knee surgery in nine months, but slow progress

frayed his pa­tience.

“I thought, ‘OK, nine or 10 months, I’ll be out.’ But it’s really a year-long in­jury,” Ir­win said Mon­day, sit­ting in a ball­room 200 miles from his home­town of Cyprus, Texas. “I’m prob­a­bly not 100 per­cent still. I told the me­dia I was 100 per­cent at fall camp, but I was at 85 or 90 per­cent. When I got back into foot­ball play, it took me un­til the first game to go out and not worry about my in­jury. It was more of a men­tal as­pect that you had to push through.”

While his team­mates went through spring prac­tice, Ir­win was just try­ing to re­store elas­tic­ity to his leg mus­cles. Still, Ir­win was de­ter­mined to re­turn in time for CU’s sea­son opener against Colorado State. It helped that he and his quar­ter­back could push each other, a shared goal of state­ment sea­son pro­vid­ing mo­ti­va­tion.

“I was hurt around the same time he was,” Li­u­fau said. “Just to see all the hard work that he put in and see­ing him stay over breaks and not go home just so he could have the op­por­tu­nity to play on the field was a great feel­ing for me, just to know that he wanted to be back as bad as I did.

“He’s played very well this year. I al­ways joke with him, he’s one of my good friends on the team, and so I’m just happy, and I think he de­serves ev­ery­thing that he’s got­ten this year.”

Ir­win earned sec­ond-team al­lPac-12 hon­ors for his per­for­mance this year. He has al­lowed only nine quar­ter­back pres­sures and half a sack dur­ing a 10-3 sea­son in which CU has at­tempted 431 passes. Ir­win also won the Trench Award as CU’s top of­fen­sive line­man.

The roots of Ir­win’s per­se­ver­ance were planted in Texas. Ir­win re­called his sopho­more sea­son at Cy­press Fairbanks High School, when his team went 0-10. The starters were mostly sopho­mores, and the team took its black-and-blue lumps. By the time Ir­win was a se­nior, Fairbanks fin­ished 12-1 and fell one game short of a trip to the state cham­pi­onship.

“It was just like with CU,” Ir­win said. “I was see­ing the progress and was see­ing what it took to get things flipped around.”

The peaks and val­leys didn’t end after high school. Ir­win played 10 games as a fresh­man on a CU team that went 1-11. The Buffs went just 10-27 the next three sea­sons, two of which Ir­win was forced to watch mostly from the side­line.

So, yes, those hours in the train­ing room with his quar­ter­back are mak­ing this week in his home state a lit­tle sweeter.

“Ob­vi­ously, I wish none of the in­juries would have ever hap­pened, but it def­i­nitely makes this ex­pe­ri­ence a more grat­i­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence know­ing that I was able to over­come some­thing,” Ir­win said. “It was good to know I was not just sit­ting on the side­lines, but ac­tu­ally con­tribut­ing to the team’s suc­cess this year.”

Cliff Grass­mick, Daily Cam­era

Colorado of­fen­sive tackle Jeromy Ir­win, train­ing in the Buf­faloes’ weight room dur­ing spring camp, is a key com­po­nent of a 10-3 team that will play Ok­la­homa State in the Alamo Bowl in San An­to­nio on Thurs­day. “He’s played very well . ... He de­serves ev­ery­thing that he’s got­ten this year,” CU quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau says of Ir­win.

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