Life on the Edge

  • August 17, 2010 10:00 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 17, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It doesn’t take much in the way of football knowledge to realize that Bruce Irvin has a great chance of becoming a really special football player.

  Bruce Irvin has been turning heads since the beginning of fall camp with his pass rushing ability.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

About two or three minutes of watching Irvin play is really all you need to figure that out. He looks that good. Just ask offensive line coach Dave Johnson, who has to figure out a way each day to slow him down.

Three times at the beginning of last Saturday’s scrimmage Irvin either got to quarterback Geno Smith or forced an offensive linemen to jump early before the ball was snapped. On Irvin’s second sack he got by right tackle Jeff Braun so quickly that he was almost to Smith before the ball was.

“He has quickness off the ball and he can adjust,” said Johnson. “If you offset one way or the other – if you’re not right on the leverage point with him – he will take advantage of it. He’s very slippery.”

Then, Johnson flashed one of those cat-ate-the-canary grins before continuing.

“I love it because he makes us better,” he explained. “He really makes us step up our game. I’m excited to see him play in this league.”

So are we.

Fall camp is not yet two weeks old and the coaches are already trying to figure out ways to get Irvin on the football field. On the second day of camp he was already working with Julian Miller, Will Clarke and Scooter Berry in West Virginia’s third-down package.

The suspicion here is that Irvin will be added to more defensive packages as he begins to figure things out.

The good news is that may not take very long considering Irvin was a 215-pound wide receiver in high school, went to junior college as a safety and wound up playing defensive end when the Mt. San Antonio coaches realized that having him chase quarterbacks was far better than having him stand on the sidelines and learn coverages.

“I had arrived two weeks before the first game so I had little knowledge of the plays,” Irvin said. “At safety you’ve got to read receivers and I was clueless so my coach was like, ‘Just put your hand in the dirt and go get the quarterback.’”

That seemed to work pretty well.

In 14 games last year Irvin had 16 sacks, 10 hurries, 21 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. One scouting service had him rated as the sixth-best junior college player in the country. Arizona State and Tennessee were thought to be his top two schools, but big Bruce had always remained in touch with West Virginia assistant coach Lonnie Galloway ever since his high school days playing in Stone Mountain, Ga.

“He was recruiting a friend of mine and I just told him to keep his eye on me when I went out there,” Irvin said. “When I went and did well, he kept in contact with me and everything worked out.”

There is an old saying about junior college players – they’re there for a reason, and Irvin’s reason was low grades in high school.

“You can’t really dwell on the past, but I think that’s why I take life much more seriously now,” Irvin said. “I was screwing up at first and making a lot of bad choices, and I know how blessed I am to have another opportunity.”

Going to California was about as far away as he could get away from home. With little money in his pocket and nobody to really turn to if things didn’t go well, Irvin had to grow up and become a man even faster than the time it took him to make the switch from safety to defensive end.

“I just kind of wanted to get away,” he said. “There was nothing at home but trouble so I wanted to get as far away as possible, and you can’t get much farther than Cali without leaving the country, so I just went over there.”

The distance away from home was one thing. The Spartan conditions he experienced in junior college were something else entirely.

“In junior college they don’t have dorms and you have to provide your own living,” Irvin said. “To be honest, I wasn’t even eating three times a day. When I got here was when I really started eating three meals a day. Out there I was playing D-end at like 220.”

Because of his circumstances – and how he’s dealt with them - Irvin’s West Virginia coaches have been extremely impressed with his eagerness to work hard, fit in with the rest of his teammates and accept coaching.

“He’s a really great kid,” says Johnson.

Irvin knows he’s far from being a finished product. He rang off a whole list of things he’s got to improve upon, namely keeping containment, getting good leverage, and most importantly, staying low so those big offensive linemen can’t get their paws on him.

“Being that I’m 6-4, I’ve got to stay low so they don’t get into my pads,” he said. “It’s hard to keep this big body down sometimes, but I’ll get it together though.”

Irvin has also learned to pay attention to what his teammates are doing.

“J.T. Thomas has been a real big help and my man Donnie Barclay, we compete a lot, so we can get each other better,” Irvin said. “He’s been a big help, too, in giving me little techniques.”

Because his size, speed and strength are off the charts, it’s already natural for people to begin looking ahead to Irvin’s football future. Irvin says he will worry about that later.

“The first thing is to get my education because football is not forever, but everybody has NFL dreams,” he said. “I just want to come here, help the team, fit in here as much as I can, get my degree, and whatever comes after will work itself out.”

Despite his impressive start to fall camp, Irvin will be the first one to admit that not everything has gone smoothly at West Virginia. There is one thing he’s still having a little trouble with.

“Chasing Noel Devine,” he smiled.