Road to success for pass rusher had many detours
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bruce Irvin doesn't look like anyone West Virginia has had before.
Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart says so himself.
Is it the dreadlocks pouring out of the pass-rush specialist's helmet?
Is it that he never graduated from high school?
Is it the fact that Irvin is a 22-year-old newcomer who has yet to play a down of major college football but was swarmed by media members earlier this week?
"I guess I'm a bit of a different guy," said the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Irvin. "I have a lot of raw ability. I'm getting there."
He sure is, as evidenced by two third-down sacks recorded in his first scrimmage last week.
Irvin has two years of eligibility remaining. One can't fully (or even begin to) understand him without peering into his past -- and it isn't all pretty.
Irvin was a high school receiver in Stone Mountain, Ga., playing at two schools before deciding that school wasn't for him.
"I was making some bad decisions," he said. "I quit, never graduated."
And that makes him different than every other player in West Virginia's preseason camp.
That was in 2006, when Irvin quit high school, and he started to live a life of milling around the streets, running with a bumpy crowd, working to make a couple of bucks and doing what he could to put some cash in his pocket.
But, in 2007, Irvin decided to get his GED diploma -- and that decision was an off-ramp, beginning a journey that could have turned out much differently.
"Great decision," he said. "Just something I had to do."
From there, after a stop at a junior college in Kansas, Irvin wound up at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Southern California.
"I kind of wanted to get away for a while," he said. "There was nothing but trouble at home so I wanted to get as far away as possible."
There's not much farther to go in the United States than Mt. San Antonio that doesn't involve a boat. It is in Los Angeles County, not far from the Pacific Ocean.
"Palm trees and great weather," Irvin said. "I did a lot of thinking about things there. I think I grew up even more."
He also grew on the field, arriving at Mt. San Antonio as a "tweener" of sorts, with the coaches understanding that they had a player with a mean temperament and urge to find someone with the football, but not a body type molded into one specific position skill set.
So they made him a safety for 2008, then last season moved him to a rush end.
"I had no clue what was going on [at safety]," Irvin said. "So my coach told me to try out the defensive line. It was pretty easy for me, and with my speed, it made it much easier. It was the right fit."
It also made him a sought-after commodity, going from a high school receiver without a diploma, to a guy who decided to get his GED diploma, then to a safety and, finally, one of the most highly recruited junior college players in recent memory.
Now, he seems to be fitting in swimmingly, making play after play in preseason camp as a disrupter along the defensive line and some stand-up situations at linebacker. Irvin is working in with West Virginia's first "40" package, the scheme the Mountaineers go to on primarily passing downs, when they put four linemen on the front instead of their customary three.
"I'm older, so the transition has been easier," Irvin said.
That much isn't up for debate.
Neither is how his past shaped him.
"I now take life more seriously because I was struggling a lot and making a lot of bad choices," he said. "Now, I know how blessed I am to have another opportunity to be doing what I love to do."
"I now take life more seriously because I was struggling a lot and making a lot of bad choices."
First Published August 20, 2010 12:00 am