Following a devastating 2008 knee injury that shredded all three knee ligaments and resulted in nerve damage, doctors told Texas tight end Blaine Irby that he might never walk again.
Through hard work and perseverance, Irby not only regained his ability to walk and run, but returned to the football field this fall after nearly three years of rehabilitation and proved to be a solid contributor for the Longhorns during his senior season.
During a media availability on Thursday, Irby revealed that the Holiday Bowl against Cal will be his final in a Texas uniform, as he will not apply for a medical hardship waiver to receive a sixth year of eligibility, though he almost certainly would have been granted it.
According to the California native, he's ready for the "next chapter" of his life and wants to ensure that he will be healthy for it, no guarantee if he played another season on his surgically repaired knee. After overcoming long odds to once again trot out onto the field, it seems that Irby has nothing left to prove.
Though he didn't catch his first passes of the season until the Oklahoma game in October, Irby finished strong with five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns in games against Kansas State and Texas A&M, including a 41-yard touchdown catch from wide receiver Jaxon Shipley on a trick play against the Aggies that helped swing momentum in the game.
The tight end also added what may have been the catch of the season against Baylor, hauling in a Case McCoy pass with one hand before dragging his toe in the endzone for a touchdown.
A bit undersized for his position, Irby struggled at times as an in-line blocker, but the most remarkable aspect of his recovery is that he didn't just return and stand on the sideline in pads. He actually played and, at times, did so at a fairly high level.
Irby's departure leaves the Longhorns with several experienced tight ends on the roster, including junior DJ Grant, who recovered from his own major knee injury to contribute this season, sophomore Dominique Jones, junior Barrett Matthews, and redshirting freshman MJ McFarland. Another tight end, sophomore Trey Graham, may give up football after multiple knee injuries.
But, again, this story is really about the power of Irby's will, and for that he has earned the enduring respect of Texas fans. Hook 'em, Blaine, and best of luck after football.