Buddies see perseverance pay o≠
While overcoming their injuries, Liufau and Irwin bonded.
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.”
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.