WOODSTOCK – Harnessing Liam Kirwan’s intensity borders on impossible and remains a task Marian Central football coach Ed Brucker gave up on long ago.
For Kirwan, going anything less than at full bore is unacceptable – not only for himself, but for those around him. But his juiced-up personality isn’t for show.
Kirwan is as genuine as they come, taking a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach to life and football that has made the Hurricanes’ senior defensive end an infectious leader teammates rally around.
Marian Central quarterback Chris Streveler defines Marian’s two-time captain in very simple terms.
“That kid is crazy,” Streveler said.
Crazy, in Kirwan’s case, is a sign of affection and respect – one that the 6-foot-1, 255-pound lineman gladly accepted. In the final season of his three-year varsity career, Kirwan has narrowed his focus to make sure he and his fellow seniors leave as champions.
It’s a title the Hurricanes haven’t achieved since 1989. Lately, rival Montini has been a constant postseason roadblock, ending Marian’s season each of the past three years. That makes Saturday’s 5A state quarterfinal showdown at George Harding Field almost storybook.
This season, like last, Marian Central toppled the Broncos during the regular season. But the Hurricanes’ 49-17 come-from-behind win won’t mean anything if Kirwan and his teammates can’t keep history from repeating itself again Saturday.
It’s a reality the Hurricanes have lived with all season, repeating the same rallying cry on almost a daily basis throughout the offseason and during their current 11-game winning streak.
“Beat Montini twice.”
“The dream is to always go out on top,” Kirwan said. “To see that this could actually work out for us – to have Montini here, which will probably be our last home game – would be perfect. To beat Montini my last game ever here – and I’ve been playing here since fourth grade – would be pretty great.”
Kirwan’s drive to finish the right way, however, is nothing new. It’s an enthusiasm he has played with on a nonstop basis, not only on Game Day, but in practice as well, treating drills against Marian’s scout team as intense as a showdown with Montini. And as always, Kirwan – whom Brucker describes as “usually amped” – is always in the middle of it.
“He just brings his heart and soul and leaves everything on the field and the kids respect that,” Brucker said. “He just goes hard.”
Kirwan’s hard-nosed style of play runs throughout Marian’s defense, leading by example and setting the standard for others to follow. Teammate Thomas Lesniewski referred to Kirwan as the heart of the defense, a close comparison made by Brucker, who characterizes Kirwan as the unit’s spiritual and emotional leader.
It’s nearly impossible for his teammates not to feed off Kirwan’s energy. In the huddle, Kirwan will be one of two ways: He will either be completely jacked up and in your face or intensely focused, but silent. Either way, his teammates know he means business.
“He’s the one person who you can always count on to always give 100 percent all the time,” Marian defensive lineman Nick Bloom said. “He sets the tone for our defensive line, he sets the standard. When we’re struggling, he’s the one that picks us up and when we’re doing well, he’s right there with us, celebrating.”
Twice during the national anthem prior to Saturday night’s 41-20 playoff win over Woodstock North and then once during the game, Kirwan vomited – a natural release that by now doesn’t even come as a surprise to Kirwan.
“Yeah, that was probably the fourth time I’ve done that,” Kirwan said matter-of-factly. “I get all amped up before the game. I’ve got a lot of intensity.”
As much as his passion has defined his Marian career, Kirwan can feel time ticking away. He’s currently pondering a handful of Division I and Division II scholarship offers, but doesn’t anticipate making a decision until December at the earliest. He figures he’s got plenty of time to evaluate his future once the season is over.
But for now, there’s still work to accomplish, starting Saturday with Montini. Over the past few weeks, Kirwan’s phone and Facebook have been flooded with messages from former Marian Central players, many of whom he doesn’t even know. Each one encourages him to keep playing hard and to keep leading the way in what Kirwan and his teammates hope leads to a state championship.
And because this is his last go-round representing a program he refers to as a brotherhood, Kirwan won’t rest until he has done all he can to help the Hurricanes accomplish their goals.
“We just want to keep on rolling and achieve the dream,” Kirwan said. “I’ve been a captain the last two years and I’ve been working my butt off on the weight room and I’ve had this thing that I need to do really whatever I need to do to put this team on my back and give everything I’ve got if we’re going to make it all the way.”