For Bruce Irvin, the long journey from Stone Mountain, Ga., to junior colleges in Kansas and California and then on to Morgantown, W.Va., is over. Now, his dream of becoming a pro football player is about to become a reality.
When and where he is picked isn’t in his control, but how committed he will be to the team that selects him and how hard he plays for them certainly is. And after coming so far, Bruce isn’t about to let the opportunity of a lifetime slip through his grasp.
“You know I’m not going to hold it down,” Irvin said earlier this week. “Everywhere I have been and played people doubted me, but I always ended up being successful. All I have ever needed was a shot and any time I got a shot I succeed. It will be no different this time.
“I know it’s going to be hard - I’m not saying it won’t be - but I’m confident in my abilities and I’ve been through way worse situations than what I am going through now,” he added. “If I could make it through that, I am sure I can make it through this.”
Irvin’s past is well documented, from the difficulties he had as a youth growing up in suburban Atlanta
, to having to get his GED to graduate from high school, to sleeping on his apartment floor with no money in his pocket in junior college – all in search of a better life.
In reality, his first two stops at Mt. San Antonio and West Virginia University were life preservers. He went to Mt. San Antonio as a wide receiver, switched to safety, and then when the coaches saw his size and enormous athletic ability, figured the fastest way to get him on the football field was to put him at defensive end and tell him to go and get the quarterback.
Ditto West Virginia. Irvin knew little about West Virginia’s 3-3-5 stack defense and spent two years playing along the line of scrimmage going up against guys twice his size. Still, he managed to produce a team-best 14 sacks as a junior in 2010 and followed that up with 8 ½ sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011.
Just go back and watch the highlights
of Bruce’s hustling strip of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in second quarter of the 2012 Orange Bowl to see a perfect example of his great determination and amazing athletic ability. Those types of plays, when a guy is hustling from behind and never giving up to make something great happen, can be defining moments for a football player.
It is also a perfect analogy of Bruce’s young life so far - always coming from behind to chase down his dreams.
In fact, Irvin’s entire college career was spent chasing time, first in junior college when his coaches figured they could get the most out of him as a defensive end and also at West Virginia when the prior defensive staff never really had enough time to teach him how to play football.
How many other potential top picks in this year’s draft can say they only have one full spring of football training under their belts? The GMs, the scouts and the coaches that have worked out Irvin know he is not close to scratching the surface as a football player yet.
That’s why Irvin takes with a grain of salt all of the experts and analysts he’s watched on television describe his football attributes. He knows none of them can lift up the hood and see what’s inside of him.
“I would pay attention to it if they were making the pick,” Irvin admitted. “None of those guys are making the decisions, though.
“I’ve been talking to GMs and my agent has been talking to a bunch of different teams, so I just sit back and watch that stuff and just laugh,” he said. “The draft is going to be completely different than what they say.”
Bruce is projected to go anywhere from late in the first round tonight to somewhere in the second round tomorrow. Several teams have worked him out, and he’s gone through an endless parade of interviews, usually dredging up his past in search of an explanation. Irvin says he was fully prepared for all of it.
“The physical part was easy. The part when people were asking me all of the questions went alright,” he said. “I got tired of answering the same questions over and over. They were questioning me about my past, but you’ve got to do it. I made it through it and I think I did alright.
“I credit (director of football communications) Mike Montoro and all of them for getting me ready to do interviews. I was comfortable with all of the questions,” Irvin admitted. “I know I answered them right. (The WVU Sports Communications staff) really gets us ready and prepared for the media and the process.”
Irvin said it really hit home how well he was trained at West Virginia University when he saw players from smaller colleges struggle with the deluge of media requests they were required to do at this year’s NFL Combines.
“There were some guys playing with their hair, scratching their face, twiddling with their fingers and little stuff like that we were taught not to do at West Virginia,” Irvin said. “They showed us what to do and what not to do (during interviews).”
Irvin knows the NFL organization that drafts him will likely use a 3-4 defensive scheme with him playing outside linebacker, but he says he has also talked to some teams that use a 4-3 as well.
Regardless, he’s anxious to get on with his life, wherever it takes him.
Tonight, though, his feet will be kicked back, remote in hand and his mom’s nacho dip on a table right next to him. For once, he can relax a little bit and take it all in instead of worrying about what tomorrow is going to bring.
Soon, all of that will be settled.Note:
The NFL draft begins tonight at 8 p.m. with the first round and continues through Friday and Saturday with rounds two through seven. Other West Virginia players who could see their names called this weekend include cornerback Keith Tandy, linebacker Najee Goode and defensive end Julian Miller.