For Foundation Academy alum Denzel Irvin, a new heart has given him a new lease on life.
And most recently, it has afforded him a new opportunity — returning to his alma mater and his hometown as defensive back coach for the Lions.
“It’s been pretty good; it’s a good opportunity to be here at my alma mater, a good opportunity to be back in Florida period, with my family and my support system,” Irvin said of his new position.
After playing for the Lions as a defensive back and wide receiver from 2012 to 2014, Irvin is excited to return, this time as part of the school’s football coaching staff.
“It’s definitely a different experience — seeing it from another angle and another view,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience. It’s also kind of funny, as well, watching the kids making some of the mistakes I used to make. (But I love) watching them succeed and seeing how the school has flourished in the nine years since I’ve been here.”
The Foundation family is excited to have Irvin back and see him thrive after a medical emergency earlier this year led to a heart transplant in April.
“Having him back is huge for the team and the program, because he understands the significance of being a Foundation player,” head football coach Andre Walker said. “He understands the building blocks that took to being where we are right now and the program as a whole. … His commitment and love for the program is huge, you can tell that it’s authentic and wholehearted.”
For Irvin, coaching is more than just talking football to young teens. It’s his passion and what lights up a spark in his eyes.
“My favorite thing about coaching kids is seeing them mess up and then seeing them succeed,” he said. “It’s like being a father. You were once a kid, so you know you made the same mistakes that they (are making). Seeing them make those mistakes and knowing you can teach them to get them right the next time — and actually seeing them get it right, seeing their joy and seeing them succeed and seeing them trust in what you are saying — that’s the best part for me.”
Walker described Irvin as a firecracker and a ball of energy, while Foundation’s athletic director and Irvin’s former football coach, Brad Lord, has no doubt he was the right addition to the program.
“I’ve been watching him, because my son is the quarterback for the team,” Lord said. “He’s a really good trainer, fundamentally at getting kids’ feet right, especially kids that don’t have quick feet, he’s really good at getting them quick feet.”
One thing is for sure: Lord continues to look out for Irvin just as he did when he was an athlete for the Lions.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want you to push too hard,’ I want him to come back slowly,” he said. “Because once everything is good, he is going to be an unbelievable coach. That is his passion. He’s a very smart boy, he could’ve done a lot of things, but he loves sports and he loves football.”
In the short period of time Irvin has been coaching at Foundation, he has felt a sense of respect from the players and a will to learn from him.
“It’s my swag,” he said. “I like to tease the kids, telling them that there’s no coach that has more swag than me, and I think that’s a confidence thing. … I feel like the fact that I’m on the younger side, I can talk to them in a language that they can understand and relate to their level. … It allows me to coach them better and allows them to be more vulnerable with me to get the most out of them.”
Because Irvin is still recovering from his heart transplant, he still needs to practice social distancing, wear a mask when in a group setting and coach no more than three to four athletes at a time.
During practice, he enjoys showing the players how to do what he is trying to teach them.
“It’s kind of hard not to be active with them, just because of the person I am,” he said. “Sometimes I do, it’s definitely not to the extent that I used to, but I would go about 50% showing them exactly what I mean and then we go from there.”
Aside from coaching football, Irvin is looking forward to helping athletes from a performance and an individual standpoint when the season is over through his business, Get Active Performance LLC.
“It will be here at Foundation, in the recreational fields and in the facility,” he said. “I also train at Walker Field in Winter Garden.”
A STRONG HEART
Thursday, Aug. 25, marked four months since Denzel Irvin received a new heart and a new chance at life.
“Recovery has been going good,” he said. “I decided to transfer here to Advent Health Hospital, and they’ve been really good.”
To make sure that Irvin’s new heart is working well and his body is not rejecting it, Irvin has had to undergo several biopsy procedures. This procedure is done by inserting a catheter through Irvin’s neck, so doctors are able to take a sample of the heart. Every biopsy Irvin has had showed a 0R result — meaning that his body is not rejecting the heart.
“Right now, I’m four months out, so I have them twice a month,” he said. “Hopefully, once I get a year out, it will be twice a year.”
In addition to his faith that God helped him through every step of his journey and the recovery process, Irvin also attributes his speedy recovery to the strong heart he received.
“I heard from my donor’s family,” he said. “They reached out to me. … The mom told me that her son, who I received the heart from, he was very active and he worked out a lot. … I also remember when I spoke to the doctors, when I was in the hospital and the heart came in, and they said, ‘You have a very strong heart; this heart is a really good heart. It’s going to be good and compatible to you.’ I think that’s a tribute to me getting out of the hospital in six days, me working out as quick as I did and recovering as quick as I did, being in the position that I am right now I think it’s a tribute to the heart that I got.”
Currently, Irvin is following a low Mediterranean diet, meaning he has to keep a diet with low salt and low sodium intake.
“All my fruits and vegetables have to be washed in open water; all my meats have to be cooked well done,” he said. “I have to stay away from all sushi, all my fish have to be cooked well done, too, no raw fish. I have to stay away from sodas and juices with lots of sugar, and no supplements.”
Because he is a heart transplant patient, Irvin is at increased risk of getting skin cancer, so he is only allowed to be exposed to the sun for two hours a day, and when doing so, he must cover himself with long sleeves, hats and tons of sunscreen.
In the short letter he received from his donor’s mother, she expressed her wish to meet Irvin in the future.
“I look forward to writing back and making that connection,” he said.