MADISON, Fla. – As a junior on the football field, Madison County offensive guard Ira Denson would best be described as a talented offensive lineman on a state title contender.
Denson has come a long way in the past year.
“He was just big and raw,” Madison County head coach Mike Coe said. “He didn’t really have any technique. If he didn’t drill you, there wasn’t much else for him to do. He was all power.”
Denson is equally critical of the player he once was.
“I was okay, definitely not great,” Denson said.
Fast forward to 10 months later, and the 6-foot-3, 316-pound Denson still has a great deal of power to his game, but after reshaping his body and rededicating himself to the game of football he is an entirely different player. He went from a relative unknown to a national recruit. He can now count himself amongst the nation’s elite prospects.
That transformation as a player was commemorated in a way on Friday, when Denson was officially invited to the Under Armour All-American Game during a jersey presentation at the school.
The journey to that moment began months before with a meeting between Denson and his head coach.
“We met with him after last season and told him that it was up to him,” Coe said.
“We came to each other,” Denson added. “I told Coach (Coe) I want to make it. I don’t want to be in Madison all of my life. He just told me it was up to me. He told me I had the body and I just had to make it work. I took that as a challenge and made it happen.”
Coe said the discussion provided immediate results from Denson.
“He had a great January and February, but then when we went to FIU and it really opened his eyes that he could do this and could earn a scholarship out of this,” Coe said. “It lit the fire even more. It was like pouring gas on the fire. He became an animal.”
While Coe gives the credit to Denson dedicating himself to improving as a player, Denson is just as quick to credit the motivation and support provided by his coach for why he was able to turn the corner.
“He told me I could do it, so I just took to working hard,” Denson said. “I kept going and trying to get better.”
Through the first few months of hard work and effort both Denson and his coach knew he was improving as a football player, but he had yet to break out on the national scene. Schools such as FIU, South Alabama, and Western Kentucky had offered by early April, but national powers had yet to take notice.
Denson put everybody on notice on April 22, 2012 when he attended the Orlando Nike Football Training Camp. Once again, it was some helpful advice from his coach that helped that moment come about.
“I tell all of our guys when we go to those things, ‘If you are not one of the big-time recruits, get to the front of the line and call out the big-time recruit.’,” Coe said. “The worst case scenario is you get beat and you are still the same guy you were when we showed up. If you whip him, everybody knows about you all of a sudden.
“He took my advice,” Coe added.
Denson's performance at the Nike Camp in April put him on the scene.
The now four-star offensive lineman had a dominant day and a breakthrough outing. He more than held his own, and at times, dominated against defensive line combatants such as Caleb Brantley, Jordan Sherit, Demarcus Walker, and Devin Washington, on his way to earning an invite to "The Opening", a prestigious event that is a gathering of the nation's elite high school football players.
By the end of the day, Denson had grabbed the attention of his peers, coaches working the event, and media attending the event. By that night, his name was everywhere you turned in the recruiting world.
“That was a big moment for me,” Denson said. “It showed that all of my hard work had paid off. It showed me that I could compete with anybody and everybody.”
Not long after that day, Denson accepted an offer from Florida State over an array of major offers that had poured in after his breakout performance. He continued his strong offseason with another solid performance at The Opening.
“He had a tremendous offseason,” Coe said. “He listened to everything we had to say and put the work in. He started to bend his knees better. He got himself in better shape and more flexible. He became a better football player.”
With the whirlwind spring and summer behind him, Denson’s focus now is on Madison and his teammates. He is also working to continue to improve as he prepares to move on to the collegiate level.
“I am good now, but I am trying to be great,” Denson said. “I am working really hard to be the best player I can be. I work hard in practice, in the weight room, and just doing everything I have to do to be a great player.”
His head coach believes that Denson has only begun to unveil how good of a player he can truly be when it is all said and done.
“He is as good of a lineman as I’ve ever been around,” Coe said. “I think he has only scratched the surface. He is not even close to the player he will be when he gets to school and starts eating right and lifting regularly.
“I would be shocked, if he stayed healthy, if he wasn’t playing on Sundays,” Coe added.
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