ATHENS — Earlier this week, Corvey Irvin and Jeff Owens took some time to reflect. Owens was just beginning to walk without crutches after tearing a ligament in his knee in Georgia’s first game of the season, and Irvin was fresh off a win at LSU — a game in which he had been named a captain for the third time this season.
The scene was about a million miles from where the two players envisioned they would be at this point, but it was also a perfect reminder of what their relationship is all about.
"We were out talking about the past, when he first got here, talking about how things change and how he’s the man now," Owens said. "It’s his shot."
Irvin’s shot, however, only came because Owens missed his.
The two seniors became fast friends when Irvin arrived in Athens as a transfer from Georgia Military College two years ago.
Owens was already a key cog in the Bulldogs’ defense, and his outgoing demeanor and fun-loving personality were something Irvin could easily relate to.
At the time, Owens knew Georgia football inside and out, and he took it upon himself to show Irvin the ropes. Transfer players, head coach Mark Richt said, don’t always make quick adjustments to their new homes, but Owens wanted to make sure Irvin was the exception.
"When we first got here, we clicked," Owens said. "We were real tight. I took him under my wing to mold him and make him a better player, just to help him out."
The early training proved to be essential for Irvin and for the rest of the Bulldogs when Owens went down with a season-ending knee injury just a few plays into his senior season. Irvin immediately stepped in, and Georgia’s defensive line didn’t miss a beat.
Irvin finished that first game as the Bulldogs’ leading tackler, and he has been a crucial part of a defensive front that is ranked sixth nationally against the run.
"I went down, he had the opportunity to step in and play, and he did the best with it," Owens said. "He’s just playing tremendously."
Irvin’s defensive effort has been essential to Georgia’s success this season, but he always knew replacing Owens on the field would be the easy part. It was Owens’ infectious influence -- the same one that had sparked their friendship in the first place -- that Irvin knew would be hard to duplicate.
At GMC, Irvin was hardly a vocal leader on the field or in the locker room. He didn’t buy into the way of life, and his coaches were often reduced to using punishment as the primary means of motivating him.
Defensive end Jarius Wynn was a teammate of Irvin’s at GMC, and when it came to scoring brownie points with coaches, Wynn was always 10 steps ahead of Irvin.
"He was the better leader because I was kind of quiet then, and the military stuff was getting on my nerves," Irvin said. "I used to kind of get in trouble a little bit, so that’s why I think they didn’t vote me a leader."
With Owens sidelined and Irvin one of the few seniors earning significant playing time on the defensive line, keeping quiet wasn’t an option. Owens made sure he knew that.
"He was a leader, he was the vocal leader, and they needed somebody to step up," Irvin said. "So he told me to become the leader he knew I could be."
So the quiet kid who spent his junior college years getting into trouble became the player his coaches always wanted.
On the field, he did everything right. He worked hard, he played physical, and he never complained.
With his teammates, he was no longer quiet. He was a leader, and he made sure everyone around him was working as hard as he was.
"When he got here, he was pretty quiet, just trying to find his way, trying to get into the system," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "Now he’s a lot more comfortable. He’s taken control of those young guys. He’s one of the guys who will get after you if you’re not holding your weight. He’s made just a complete turnaround in his attitude and his leadership."
It’s an attitude that the people around him are forced to respect, Richt said.
"Corvey is the one that has the work ethic, the productivity out there that guys respect," Richt said, "but he also has the rapport to say, ‘Let’s go,’ and guys respond to him."
As Owens and Irvin talked this week about the challenges they had endured during the past two years and the changes they had both made, Owens said his teammate beamed with pride.
The troublemaker who was never voted captain in junior college had already been given the honor three times in just seven starts this season. That was once more than Owens had been named captain all of last season.
Leader wasn’t a role Irvin expected to play this year, and he said he wishes it was an honor he could have achieved without having to see his teammate and friend sit out the season.
But that’s how life goes sometimes, he said. When an opportunity arises, it’s best to make the most of it, because they don’t come around that often.
Owens taught him that, and now Irvin is passing the lesson on to the next generation.
"Everybody looks at me as the captain of the team, and I’m loving it," Irvin said. "It’s just a great feeling knowing you lead your troops to victory, and I’m embracing it. My game’s improving every week."