ATHENS, Ga. -- If making the transition from junior college to the University of Georgia hasn't always been easy, Jarius Wynn and Corvey Irvin agree that it's far from the toughest challenge they've ever faced.
"We've been through a hard time," Wynn said. "Really hard."
Wynn's path from Lincoln County and Irvin's from Laney to the defensive line of the Georgia Bulldogs included their fair share of obstacles. They understood they had some mountains to climb to make it from Georgia Military College to the state's flagship university. They just didn't realize it was so literal.
"The toughest thing at GMC was the Appalachian Trail," said Wynn in his standard, to-the-point speaking style. "Fifteen miles. Marching."
Irvin, fitting his personality, remembers the experience with a great deal more embellishment.
"I believe that was the worst day of my life," Irvin said.
That worst day started at 4 a.m. two winters ago. It lingers with them above any mat drills that purportedly separate the men from the boys on the Georgia football team.
Three times a year at Georgia Military College, every cadet goes through what is called adventure training. In the fall it involves paint-ball battles. In the spring it means whitewater rafting.
In the winter, however, the adventure means getting roused from bed in the dark, taking a bus into the Blue Ridge Mountains and hiking the Appalachian Trail. The 12-mile march through nature is rugged enough in the best of circumstances.
On the occasion Wynn and Irvin got to experience the mountain adventure, it was far from the best of circumstances.
It was barely above freezing, and it was raining. On top of that, one of the buses broke down, forcing everyone to march at least three or four miles further than intended up and down the steep hills. For a couple of guys weighing about 275 pounds, it was no simple walk in the woods.
"Ah, man, I never want to do that again," said Irvin, who admits he barely made it through the experience. "It was 15 or 16 hours straight, with combat boots, BDUs and a rucksack. I don't know how many footsteps I took, but I had blisters all over my feet."
GMC head coach Bert Williams distinctly remembers them coming back to campus like a troop that just lost a major battle.
"They were all dragging," he said. "They got a raw deal on that one."
Exhausted and blistered from the experience, each of them made sure they got the grades necessary to enroll at Georgia before they had to hike back into the mountains the next winter.
"I said after that, 'I can't wait to get out of here and go to a better place,' " Irvin recalled.
Don't mistake that for being ungrateful. Both players are quick to point out that they loved GMC and what it did to improve their lives.
"It made me the person I am now," Irvin said. "That made you a man. It changed my life and let me know not to take stuff for granted and have discipline and obey."
Said Wynn: "It made me more of a man. From a standpoint, I needed that."
Wynn and Irvin grew together from the minute they arrived in Milledgeville and clicked as friends. By the end of their first year, they were roommates and have remained that way since. They made every effort to go to the same school.
"When my back's against the wall, I need him and he needs me," Irvin said. "If I can't talk to nobody else, I can talk to him."
Their respective rates of maturity, however, were very different. Wynn always led the way with a persistent drive that made him a decorated junior college star. Irvin had just as much potential, but needed to work harder to keep up.
"Corvey needs a little extra urging than what Jarius did," Williams said. "He would work, but he just needed a little more maintenance. Jarius was extremely self-motivated and you told him to slow down and never to speed up. Corvey was as talented as Jarius but you had to prod him a bit to push himself to not just be better than the people around him but to be better than the ghosts that are out there -- defensive lineman at other junior colleges out thee who are working hard to move up."
Irvin appreciates that he would not be where he is now without those extra shoves in the back.
"I'm not a bad kid, but GMC showed me I had to wake up and smell the coffee and just do what's right," Irvin said.
Wynn and Irvin aren't exactly trailblazers. They aren't the first junior college transfers to make an impact with the Bulldogs. But they are helping alter the recent mindset at Georgia that has steered away from juco transfers. On the heels of the Brinkley brothers from Thomson and GMC -- who made a major impact on South Carolina after Georgia let them get away -- Wynn and Irvin are setting a strong example for those who follow.
"What's wrong with junior college players?" asked Williams of the kids he has consistently prepared to step up into the big-time collegiate conferences. "That's got kind of a negative connotation and that gripes me."
Though neither Wynn nor Irvin is a starter, they have played significantly in all 10 games for the Bulldogs. Against Florida, they combined for five tackles including a sack and a tackle for loss.
"It's been more than I expected," Wynn said. "We've come along pretty good."
After scaling mountains, it all seems downhill from here.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.