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Track coaches at the University of California-Riverside first noticed Nathan Irvin when he was 15. He was that good. They noticed Irvin’s name and photo appeared frequently in the local newspaper. For years they kept an eye on him at nearby Riverside Polytech High School. Irvin went on to become the state high-school long jump and triple jump champion in California’s CIS Division II.

“When it came time for us to recruit, he was at the top of our list. He was the top senior in our area and was being recruited by major Division I schools throughout the country,” says Chris Rinne, UCR’s head track and field coach.

At the time the university was moving up from Division II status to Division I.

“It was critical for us to get an athlete who was indicative of the direction we wanted to go,” Rinne says. “We were interested in his ability but also his outstanding character.”

Mark Moyer, Irvin’s sprint hurdle coach, says “he’s the complete package when you look for someone with the athletic ability and the academic ability.”

Irvin, now a senior, became the college’s top sprinter and long jumper, setting a freshman long jump record of 23 feet and 7 inches. He also has been the men’s track captain for three years. Irvin, a pre-med student, has maintained a 3.76 GPA and today is fielding offers from top medical schools around the country.

For all his track victories, Irvin says his proudest moment was receiving his scholarship offer to run track at UCR.

“It was the first time that I had realized a dream that I had been harboring since I was a child,” he says. “It let me see what happens when you set a goal and work continuously to achieve it. It kind of set the tone for the rest of my endeavors.”

As a youngster, Irvin initially wanted to be a basketball player. He became interested in track as a high-school freshman because of his older brother’s interest.

He made a smooth transition to college, keeping his grades up, improving in skills and even making time for extracurricular activities.

“Juggling it all was hard. I was tired a lot,” Irvin recalls.

Throughout his college career, Irvin concentrated on the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 4×100-meter relay. In the relay, Irvin was in the pivotal anchor leg position. Irvin was third leg of the 4×400 meter relay team which ran the second fastest time in school history.

“We give Nate the lead and count on him to hold onto it. If we don’t have the lead, we count on him to run the person down,” Rinne says.

Coaches, teammates and friends say Irvin is remarkably low key for a star athlete.

“For all he’s accomplished, you’d never know it,” Rinne says. “He’s quiet and humble. He doesn’t have a big ego.”

Teammates hold him in the highest esteem.

“If he says something, everyone says, ‘that’s what we should be doing,’ ” Rinne notes.

One of Irvin’s most frustrating times came with a hamstring injury. He was ready to get back into competition but Moyer thought it prudent to wait. Moyer knew he was eager to run again but he remembers Irvin being respectful of his coach’s decision. Not all athletes would have the same reaction.

Irvin credits much of his success to his parents’ support. His mother, Virginia, is a regional social services administrator. His dad, Sherman, also works for social services.

As a student, Irvin always liked math and science and enjoyed his honors courses at UCR.

“He came to us with a wonderful high-school background and has continued to blossom. He is very passionate about his studies,” says Kathryn Jones, Irvin’s advisor in the honors program. She says Irvin was always a top student at UCR, which has an enrollment of approximately 16,000 students. He made the dean’s list all through college and posted a 4.0 grade-point average last fall.

His interest in becoming a physician came in middle school when a friend was diagnosed with lymphoma.

“He eventually recovered but that entire process made me respect doctors and what they did,” Irvin says. He immediately began taking classes and participating in summer programs that would prepare him for a medical career.

Irvin has already been accepted by Harvard, Yale, Cornell and other medical schools and is weighing his options. He is a member of African Americans United in Science, serving as president for two years, and is on the university’s Rhodes Scholar Team, which grooms students for the program. For two years he volunteered with SOAR, working with disadvantaged youth in the community. Irvin also served as a Bio-Med peer mentor to ease the adjustment into the medical science program.

Dedicated and hardworking are the two words his teammate and roommate for three years, Brandon Jacobs, chooses to describe Irvin.

“When he makes up his mind, he’s the type of person who never fails,” Jacobs says, adding Irvin has always been “a regular guy” and a team player.

Last year, during the conference championship, a UCR runner was injured and couldn’t compete in the 4×400-meter relay.

“We weren’t going to be able to compete at all. Normally Nate doesn’t run that relay but out of nowhere he comes up and says, ‘Hey man, I’ll run it,’ ” Brandon recalls. “He ran the third position and when I handed him the baton he got one of our faster times. He didn’t have to do it. I think this showed a sacrifice for the team.”

For that and other reasons, Jacobs thinks highly of Irvin.

“Without getting too mushy here, Nate has inspired me. He has been a big brother,” Jacobs says. “I’m glad to have him as friend.”

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