Irwin helping Ramstein team recapture glory days
October 16, 2003
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Right before the roof fell in last year, things were going as close to perfectly as possible for three-sport star Matt Irwin.
After two years of backing up older brother Jay as quarterback for a Yokota, Japan, team that hadn’t lost a game in nearly three seasons, Matt was in line to become the starter.
Then the orders came transferring his father to Germany.
“At first, I was really angry,” Irwin said as he sat out practice at Ramstein on Tuesday to nurse a swollen left ankle.
“I was supposed to graduate there.”
Once he realized the situation was inevitable, he began to adjust.
By the time he arrived in Germany, it was time for football season.
“He was here about two days before I took him to [the Department of Defense Dependents-Europe preseason football camp at] Bitburg,” Ramstein coach Glenn Porter said.
“He didn’t even know where we were going. We had to borrow some cleats for him.”
The loaner shoes were just the beginning of transitioning from an unbeaten Yokota Panthers powerhouse and its 12-game schedule to a Ramstein team still trying to recapture the glory days of the 1990s on the eight-games-maximum slate played in Europe.
Despite Yokota’s smaller enrollments, Irwin said the quality of football there was ahead of what he’s seen in Europe.
“I think Yokota could have beaten any of the teams over here,” Irwin said after guiding Ramstein to a 32-18 victory over Kaiserslautern last Friday night.
“They haven’t lost a game in three years.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the coaches here, but it’s mostly the coaching staff [Yokota head coach Tim Pujols and assistants Matt Grant and Carlos Amponin] that makes the difference.”
Making the move more difficult was the risk of resentment from returning Ramstein players.
“It can cause controversy to come in and take the starting quarterback’s job,” Irwin said. “People who were already here thought they should have been the starter.”
Irwin overcame the obstacles beautifully, according to Porter.
“Most DODDS kids have to move,” Porter said, “and they become good at it. But it’s still hard to have to prove yourself all over again.”
Irwin proved himself immediately at Ramstein, running for 172 yards and two touchdowns and passing for 61 yards in the Royals’ 34-12 victory over three-time European champion Würzburg in the season opener.
A week later, a new milestone turned up on the learning curve — how to deal with defeat. The Royals opened their conference schedule with a 31-7 loss to Wiesbaden.
“I had never lost a football game before,” said Irwin, who didn’t begin playing football until his freshman year at Seoul American High School in South Korea. “Before that, I was in British and Italian school systems. They didn’t have football.”
Two weeks later, he suffered a lingering ankle injury in a 7-0 loss to Lakenheath, a game in which he played only in the first half. But Irwin rebounded to lead the Royals to a 2-2 conference record and a chance for a home game in the first round of the playoffs on the line in Saturday’s regular-season finale against visiting Heidelberg.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s shaping up to be a good season,” Irwin said. “We’re really pumped up about the playoffs.”
And the gimpy ankle?
“We’ll tape it up before the game,” Irwin said. “The main problem is that it prevents me from playing defense. I love defense.”
Whether or not he’s able to line up at safety, Irwin, a team captain, will have a big hand in any future Royals’ success this season, his coach believes.
“He’s been a good leader for us,” Porter said. “He leads by example.”
No matter what side of the globe he’s on.