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Demopolis senior hopes to make impact

As they work toward the 2009 season, the Tigers have a roster full of reasons to be excited. At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, senior receiver Fred Irby stands as one of the biggest of those reasons, at least in terms of stature.

“Fred’s come on a lot since the middle of last season,” Causey says of the unassuming Irby, who began making his mark on the Demopolis HIgh coaching staff and opposing defenses as a junior. “He’s matured a lot in the offseason. I think he realizes this is it for him. He’s kind of running out of time, but we’re expecting big things out of Fred this year.”

Causey hesitates little when speaking of what he expects from Irby in 2009. However, Causey’s expectations for the senior wideout may well pale in comparison to what Irby requires of himself.

That level of personal accountability began manifesting itself during the 2008 season. While his team was 1-4 and struggling through the first half of its schedule, Irby says he took his coaches’ words to heart.

“The coaches were on me about stepping up,” he says. “They challenged all the players to challenge (the coaches). So I took that upon myself to accept that challenge. I just worked at every aspect of my game to help the team to the best of my abilities.”

What resulted for Irby and the Tigers was the emergence of a player found ways to be productive without the ball in his hands.

“Fred’s a real physical guy that blocks real well on the edge for us,” Causey says of Irby, a player he considers to be well-rounded at the wide receiver position. “He’s got great hands. I guess his strongest asset is his athletic ability.”

Irby became a weapon as an edge blocker for Demopolis while showing flashes of big play ability for the team. Then, in the first round of the playoffs against Sylacauga, Irby did something he had not achieved since his freshman year when he caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to pull his team to within an extra-point of tying the game.

“It felt great,” Irby says of his first score in more than two years. I hadn’t been there in a while, since my freshman year. It felt great. It was a big one, first round of the playoffs, we were down.”

For Irby, the play was one of a handful of highlights from a season whose lasting effects have yet to be determined.

“Fred’s made a lot of strides in this last year,” Causey says. “I think a lot of it is that he understands that this is it for him. I’m anxious to see us get in pads in a heated situation and see how he responds.”

In the midst of his junior season, Irby gained a confidence that helped to turn his attention and hopes toward playing the game at the next level. He has attended a number of camps over the summer, honing his skills and earning looks from collegiate coaches.

At this point, he is unsure of what his college prospects are, but knows that at least one program likes his potential at the tight end position.

“I like it, being that I played it my freshman year,” Irby says of the possibility of facing a position shift at the next level. “I think I need to focus on my blocking more than my catching and my route running. Basically, at tight end, you’re going to be involved in the running game more than the passing game.”

While his future in football may see him shift positions, his present has him learning other new tasks as he works to find room in the rotation in the Demopolis secondary.

“It’s going to be a mystery for us back there,” Causey says. “He has a lot of learning to do. But he has the ability. We just don’t know what he can do for us back there because he’s never really played back there.”

“It’s coming real easy,” Irby says of the learning curve he faces. “I repped at it some last fall, but I’ve never really played it in a game. Hopefully, when the season comes, I’ll have it down pat.”