Senior Conor Irwin uses Duke’s resources to combine brawn and brains—he balances his time playing as an offensive lineman on the Duke football team and conducting medical research that he aims to publish in a peer-reviewed journal.

Irwin has compiled research on medial collateral ligament injuries, which particularly affect offensive linemen, and is in the process of editing a review paper for publication that seeks to streamline the literature and provide a comprehensive source for the sports medicine community, he said.

An evolutionary anthropology major, Irwin pursued an independent study focusing on the nature of MCL tears in athletes with Dr. Claude Moorman, director of sports medicine and professor of evolutionary anthropology. The study commenced in Fall 2011 and is ongoing.

“Football has afforded me an amazing opportunity to play at an ACC school, and study at a great institution,” Irwin said.

In order to alleviate his workload during football season, Irwin started class during the summer before his freshman year. He took EVANTH 101: Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology and was immediately sold on the discipline. He said it piqued his interest so much that he went on to pursue the major and then the independent study, in addition to his football training schedule.

“Your experience here will be much more rewarding if you pursue all of your passions and take advantage of the opportunities here,” he said. “It’s all about finding a balance.”

MCL injuries are particularly common among offensive linemen due to sharp and unexpected lateral motion that can cause unnatural knee movement. When Moorman suggested to Irwin a project studying MCL injuries, Irwin was intrigued by the crossover, he said.

He spent the past year combing through studies that go back as far as the 1950s to gain a broad understanding of how the medical community approaches MCL injuries. Irwin then began writing a research paper that best integrates the available knowledge and practices. The paper is undergoing editing, after which it will go to peer review.

Irwin said he is seeking to submit his paper to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons within the next five years, and hopes that it can be used nationally to help standardize surgical and rehabilitative procedures for MCL tears.

The lineman’s achievement on and off the field led Moorman to call Irwin “everything that a Duke student-athlete should be.”

Back on the field, Irwin is seen as a strong leader, said senior Jackson Anderson, a fellow offensive lineman and Irwin’s long-time roommate.

“Conor has a great work ethic, and being a senior, is really looked up to on the team,” Anderson noted.

This winter Irwin will graduate and return home to Knoxville, Tenn., where he will complete his pre-medical requirements at the University of Tennessee. Although he will be busy applying for medical school and seeking publication for his research, Irwin emphasized that he hopes to remain close to his teammates and coaches on the football team.

“I will always treasure my camaraderie with those guys,” he said.