It took a long look in the mirror for Notre Dame’s Grant Irons to realize where his future in football would lie.
“I looked at my father when he played in the NFL [as a linebacker] with the Raiders and that’s where I wanted to be. I always saw myself as a linebacker,” said Irons, whose father Gerald played six seasons in the pros. “However, as time went on my body matured. When I looked in the mirror everything said defensive end.”
With that glance in the mirror, Irons’ transition from linebacker to defensive line began.
“At first initially [last spring] when I moved to the position [defensive line], I wasn’t comfortable at all, but coach Mattison and the rest of the coaching staff have done a great job in teaching fundamentals,” Irons said in yesterday’s press conference. “I was so used to the middle position at linebacker where I’m in the two-point stance. Then when I went down [in the three-point stance] I wanted to pop up. I never really worked to stay down, but now that I’ve worked on the fundamentals and the footwork, I feel more comfortable.”
While Irons was originally reluctant to make the switch from linebacker to defensive end, he is now enjoying playing on the line.
“You can just attack; you can play on instinct,” Irons said. “At linebacker you are always looking into the backfield at the tailback and then the guard. You always have to deal with linemen coming at you and cutting you, but at defensive end, it’s just you and the tackle or you and the tight end. It makes it a one-on-one battle each play. My reads are cut down and I can focus on the tackle and the tight end.”
Last season, Irons started the first five games at outside rush linebacker, before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three games. He came in off the bench in the final four contests, but this season he is once again competing for a starting job. In addition, Notre Dame’s switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense will accommodate Irons’ move to the line.
Irons, who stands 6-feet, 5-inches tall, has put on some weight in the off season and is up to 275 pounds, probably courtesy of the four to five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he says he eats at night. He came to Notre Dame weighing just 218 pounds, but was up to 250 last year.
“I didn’t think I’d get this big, but with the weight program here and just my appetite, I’ve grown a lot,” Irons said. “I’m definitely comfortable with the weight. My quickness has even increased. Coach Mickey Marotti and the rest of the staff have done a great job in not only developing our strength and size, but our quickness as well.”