Foundation coach to bring Friday Night Lights to spring tourney

After receiving a new heart almost two years ago, Denzel Irvin is thriving as a football coach and business owner.

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These days, if you see Foundation Academy defensive coordinator Denzel Irvin roaming the sidelines of his alma mater, you might not be able to guess he needed a new heart a little less than two years ago. 

The Class of 2014 two-star defensive back, who played four seasons of college ball at the University of North Carolina — Charlotte, received a new heart in April 2022 after being rushed to Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte with COVID 19-like symptoms. 

It turned out his heart was only functioning at about 10% capacity. 

Now, with a new heart and new perspective on life, Irvin wants to use this experience to help others in a similar place.

“I just want to show people that there is actually life after a transplant,” Irvin said. “On April 25 ... it’ll be two years since I had my surgery, and a lot of people think once you have a heart transplant, that life is kind of subsidized, or it’s not really like what it was before. And I just want to kind of put (it) out there that there is something great on the other side.”

One of the ways Irvin is going about showing that there’s life beyond receiving a transplant is by giving back to the game he loves. 

That’s why he started his business, Get Active Performance Training, to help train and develop the next generation of players. And he’s also using his experience to inspire those around him to not take life for granted. 

“What I went through was nothing short of a modern-day miracle,” Irvin said. “So when people hear my story, even if they weren’t believers, even if they were not close to God or had a relationship with God, they have to at least wonder if God is real, because man couldn’t have done that. … Through this whole thing, people are able to see God’s grace and power through me, and that’s been the most rewarding thing for me, to see Him glorified through my story and it helping people.”

Irvin hopes to continue to share his story and inspire the next generation through the first Under The Lights 7-on-7 football tournament Friday, March 15, at Foundation Academy. 

“Most 7-on-7 tournaments are in the morning or during the day,” Irvin said. “What makes this event different is that it’s a Friday Night Lights-type of thing. The Under The Lights tournament is all about bringing that Friday night high-school football feel to the offseason.”

The event for students under 18 is the perfect crossover for Irvin, who can combine two passions: coaching and developing young football players and using his platform to give back to the community and share his story.

"The biggest thing I learned from this is to be grateful for everything and how perspective is everything,” Irvin said. “You never know how much we take for granted until those things are taken away. You start to see life through a different lens. Things like the ability to walk, to eat normal food every day, the ability to put on clothes, to even have a job. … What happens when that’s taken away from you?

“When I lost those things when I was in the hospital on bedrest, man, it was so hard,” Irvin said. 

“All I wanted to do was take a walk, was to eat normal food. … My perspective switched from saying, ‘Man, I have to go to work,’ to ‘I get the opportunity to do these things now.’ So I just want to make sure all the opportunities I get count.”

The Tournament will be held at Foundation Academy and will be open to the public with concessions available for purchase. A portion of the tournament's proceeds will go to the family that donated the heart to Irivin.



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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