Franklin Road Academy’s ‘gentle giant’ is making his marks in track and field, but football remains his signature sport.
Massive 6-foot-4, 315-pound Joe Irby is one of the biggest athletes in Nashville — but he’s not just a huge lineman who just takes up space for the Panthers football team. He has developed and honed his skills to become one of the best offensive and defensive lineman in the city as a junior last fall.
“I’ve always been big,” Irby said, just before competing in his specialties, the shot and the discus, in the Buster Relays over the weekend on his home FRA track. “But I’ve pushed myself hard to try to become the best player I can be.”
So far this spring, Irby has thrown the shot 53-11¾ and the discus 151-2. He has designs on the reaching the Division II state meet in both events.
“Last year [as a sophomore], I didn’t qualify for state in either event, and that was a big disappointment,” he said. “I’ve thrown [the shot] 56 feet in warm-ups before. I have goals of 165 feet in the disc and 58 in the shot.”
Last week in the Great Eight meet in chilly conditions, he threw the shot 51-2 and the disc 141-4, placing second and fourth in those events.
Make no mistake, though, football remains king.
A friend, Bobby Blevins, compiled an eye-opening 7-minute video on YouTube that shows Irby is a one-man wrecking crew. It features crunching blocks, setting up big gains for his appreciative backs, and making crushing tackles, causing big losses for opponents.
It started in the weight room, where he gives total credit to FRA conditioning coach Mark Sutton.
“I owe everything to Coach Sutton,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing, and he’s with me every day, pushing me, working with me.”
Noticing his obvious size and strength, veteran coach David Tucker encouraged Irby to come out for track.
“In my 32 years at FRA, Joe may be the best big athlete who has ever come through here,” Tucker said. “The best thing about him is that he has become a leader, someone whom his teammates adapt to.
“How far he goes will be determined by how hard he works. Joe is very determined and an extremely hard worker. He has this no holds barred type mindset and a no mercy attitude on the football field.”
Sometime next football season, or shortly thereafter, Irby will make a decision on college after sifting through a ton of offers.
“I’ve gotten a lot of interest from Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Duke, Clemson, several others, plus a lot of attention from the mid-majors. I really like both the SEC and ACC,” he said. “And Western Kentucky offered just last week.”
He says he didn’t get his athletic ability from his parents – “neither one was what you would call a great athlete,” nor his size, noting that his father John is 6-foot-3 and mother Susan “is really short.”
“He’s just a gentle giant, he has a wonderful disposition,” his mother Susan said. “He works so hard trying to become a better player each day.”
Asked about the recruiting process, she said, “it’s exciting but scary at the same time. Joe has a big decision to make, and we know he will make a good one.”
“Joe is a quiet guy, a real gentleman and an excellent two-way player,” football coach Bill Whittemore said. “It’s always ‘yes sir-no sir ‘with him. But on the field he goes all out. He has worked super hard to be the best player he can be.”
Irby would like to run the ball before his high school career is over similar to the way William ‘the Refrigerator’ Perry made goal-line blasts for the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s.
“I’ve asked Coach Whittemore if I can run the ball, but so far he hasn’t let me,” Irby said with a laugh. “Maybe he will once during my senior year.”
Said Whittimore: “We might be able to work that out.”
In the meantime, his goal is to qualify for the state meet in track.
• Christ Presbyterian Academy football standouts Paul Adams and Thomas Richard have been offered scholarships by Missouri, coach Ingle Martin reported. Adams is a standout two-way lineman, and Richard had more than 1,000 yards in receiving for the Lions, who reached the AA state playoff semifinals last November. Adams also has been offered by Mississippi State and Cincinnati.
• The Hillsboro High Sports Hall of Fame will hold induction ceremonies 3 p.m. Sunday at the school auditorium. Tommy Frensley (basketball coach), Ann Hutcheson Price (tennis, state champ 1968), Alvin Fite and Walt Fisher (football and Mr. Football winners), Ron Aydelott (football), Jerry Caldwell (basketball and tennis), Jim Mathis (basketball and baseball) and the 2003 state champ football team will be honored. A reception precedes the ceremony at 2:15 p.m.
• The annual Hill Center Relays are scheduled this week at the Harpeth Hall track, with running event prelims and field event finals Tuesday and Wednesday. All running event finals are Friday, starting at 6 p.m.
• The Middle Tennessee Class A/AA Region pentathlon and decathlon events are at 4 p.m. April 29-30 at the Lipscomb Academy track. Girls pentathlon finals are Monday, and the final five boys decathlon events are Tuesday.
• The first Cane Ridge Golf tournament benefit is scheduled next Monday, April 29 at Pine Creek course, with registration at 11:30 a.m. Proceeds go to the school’s football program. Call the school at 687-4000 or E-Mail football coach Jonathan Parks at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com  to enter.