The 19-year-old Jeromy Irwin who arrived in Boulder in the fall of 2012 probably wasn’t thinking much about 2017 at that time.
If he did look ahead, he certainly didn’t see himself still wearing a Colorado uniform.
“I’m kind of still in awe that I’m still here in 2017,” Irwin said this week.
Now a 24-year-old sixth-year senior, Irwin is back for one last run with the Buffaloes, and grateful for the opportunity in front of him this season.
“I’m blessed to have another year to be here,” he said. “Luckily they gave me a hardship waiver. That was really important to me.”
Projected to start once again at left tackle for the Buffaloes (10-4, 8-1 Pac-12 South last season), Irwin’s career has been filled with great moments and difficult trials.
As a true freshman — playing for then-head coach Jon Embree — Irwin played immediately, which is rare for an offensive lineman.
The next summer, just days before the start of preseason camp, he broke his foot while doing yard work and missed the entire season.
In 2015, he tore the ACL in his left knee early in the second game of the year and was done for the season. Missing nearly a second full season allowed him to apply to the NCAAA for the hardship waiver.
When Irwin has played, he’s been one of CU’s best linemen, starting at left tackle 11 times in 2014, twice in 2015 and 13 times last year.
The ups and downs of his career have given Irwin the determination to make this last season count.
“It’s changed my perspective,” he said. “It definitely humbled me in how I can come every day and improve on what I’ve done in the past and what I need to improve on.”
CU will lean heavily on Irwin this season. He is not only one of the best leaders on the team; he’s also one of the keys to an offensive line that is supposed to be very good. Head coach Mike MacIntyre said this should be the best offensive line CU has had during his five seasons as head coach.
“People probably feel that way because there’s so many guys that have played,” offensive line coach Klayton Adams said on Tuesday. “That’s what you want; you want guys that have played. We’re still making strides out here. It’s only our second day in pads, but there’s still a lot of things we need to clean up.”
Irwin is the elder statesman of the group, but it’s a crew that also includes senior left guard Gerrad Kough (22 career starts) and senior center Jonathan Huckins (13 career starts). Sophomores Tim Lynott (right guard) and Aaron Haigler (right tackle) are also returning starters.
“Yeah, we think we’re a good group, but our attitude is that we need to get work done,” Irwin said. “Our mentality hasn’t changed as in we’re going to run the ball a lot and we’re going to be balanced and throw the ball. As an offensive line, yeah, we have some confidence that people have faith in us because it hasn’t always been that way around here.”
CU’s offensive line has been a work in progress the past several years, and while Irwin acknowledges that the expectations don’t mean a whole lot, he said it feels better in practice than in the past.
“Yes, it does,” he said. “We’ve bonded a lot.”
The bond goes beyond the five projected starters. Adams, in his second season working with the offensive line, has always emphasized competition that’s helped younger players develop.
Junior Josh Kaiser and sophomores Dillon Middlemiss, Isaac Miller and Brett Tonz are all pushing for playing time, and the six true freshmen brought in this season represent the best group of young linemen the Buffs have had in years.
“The recruiting class we brought in has been magnificent,” Irwin said. “The guys work hard; they’ve got great attitudes.”
With Irwin leading the way, the Buffs are on the right track with its offensive line, even with plenty of work ahead before the season kicks off Sept. 1 against Colorado State.
“I think the attitude is close to where it needs to be,” Adams said. “We need to sharpen up the fundamentals, the finish, the understanding of the scheme. In terms of solidarity and understanding what needs to get gone and how things work, we’re a lot further ahead at this point on Day 4 than we were last year.”