Patterson ATH Irvin just wants to win

PATTERSON — Tommy Minton, the head coach here at Patterson High School, describes multi-sport athlete Blair Irvin Jr. as ultra-competitive. In a nutshell, Irvin wants to win.

That competitive spirit helped him out in early May, when Minton took Irvin and two of his teammates to the Nike combine on the LSU campus. With 200 or so college football prospects watching, Irvin sizzled the ground beneath him when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. His vertical jump checked in at 30 inches.

LSU football coach Nick Saban certainly took notice, offering Irvin a scholarship. Before long, almost eight months before the next class of high-school seniors can sign their letters of intent to play college football, Saban got commitment No. 6 for 2002 from Irvin, who measured 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds at the Nike workout.

"Man, I'm not 160 anymore!" he says, laughing. "I'm 165. I want everyone to know."

His trip to the Nike camp is hardly the only time Irvin has been at the LSU campus. He competed in the state track meet and took part in one of Saban's camps.

"The decision (to commit) wasn't really that hard," Irvin says. "I had just been there so many times, so I really felt comfortable with it."

So comfortable, Irvin says, that he an his mother, Jackie, have gone through many hours on the road, using many gallons of gas, going back and forth from Patterson to Baton Rouge since then.

"I got my hair cut up there one time and I like the way the guy did it," Irvin says. "Now I go up there all the time."

The name "Jackie" is tattooed on Blair's right forearm. The name of his grandmother, Eva, is tattooed on his right biceps, directly above a giant Christian cross. His own name runs across his left forearm. Blair is 18, so he didn't need his mother's permission to get the ink on his skin. (Besides, if your son had (ITAL) your (ITAL) name permanently marked on him, would you really be that upset about it?)

"Man, once you get one, you want to get another one," Irvin says. "My mother's name was the first one I got, though."

Irvin gave his commitment to Saban in May. He joined the Tigers' five previous commitments: Rummel offensive lineman Garett Wibel, Catholic defensive lineman Doug Planchard, Higgins athlete Skyler Green, Notre Dame athlete Jeff Cook and John Curtis running back Jason Spadoni.

Jackie told Blair that his college decision was entirely up to him. According to Minton, he has firm scholarship offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Tulane. Florida has told him an offer will come pending an ACT score.

Since Blair made his decision, Jackie has thought about re-locating to Baton Rouge once Blair moves there for college. Blair has one younger brother, who will be a freshman at Patterson this fall.

These days, as is the norm, tattoos and haircuts and earrings (yes, both of them are pierced) are not really Blair's concern. His concern is winning. That's why he's with the rest of his teammates, encouraging them fervently as they lift weights and run.

Irvin has had some great accomplishments at Patterson, but a more telling trait is that he looks at what he (ITAL) hasn't (ITAL) done.

He took up track just last year, and a false start kept him from trying for the state title in the 100 meters. His 4x100-meter relay team, which he anchored, was the state runner-up. That meant someone did better than Patterson, which didn't make Irvin happy.

"Everybody talks about that 4.38 he ran at the Nike combine," Minton says. "But this is what impresses me most: They finished second in the state, and he was ticked off he didn't win."

Irvin was also the state runner-up in long-jump competition. That meant someone did better than Irvin, which didn't make him happy.

"All that stuff — I want to improve on that next year," Irvin says. "I want to win it all."

Irvin also plays baseball, working at several positions and batting either first or fourth in the lineup. His father, Blair Sr., did so at the University of New Orleans and got a look from the Philadelphia Phillies. After a stint in the Navy, he is now running his own business in Virginia. Blair Sr. bought his son an SUV for his senior year.

Blair Jr. also plays basketball (he played at two-guard and small forward before now but might spend more time in the paint because of Patterson's smaller roster.)

On the gridiron last season, the Lumberjacks posted a 6-4 record but missed the playoffs because of a lower power rating.

"We're going to fix that," Irvin says. "We were 9-1 here when I was a freshman. We didn't take it seriously when we lost our first game (in 2000). That wound up killing us. I'm trying to tell them, some of the younger guys, that it's always for real. Everything counts."

As a junior, Irvin had 28 receptions for 524 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 21 yards per return. Irvin started at cornerback during his sophomore and junior seasons, but will play free safety in his senior season.

"We play a man (coverage) scheme," Minton said. "I'd say we play man 95 percent of the time, and so our free safety has to cover a lot of ground. With the wheels he has, that's a good place for us to have him."

Irvin had three interceptions last year, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Minton says that LSU is recruiting Irvin as an athlete, but that Saban may give Irvin a first look at cornerback.

"I really like playing receiver, but I'm not going to pout and cry if that's not what they think is best," Irvin says.

Beyond winning, Irvin says he wants to stay focused on doing the things that will prepare him for college. As Saban pointed out to him, Irvin's work isn't done just because he has made a verbal pledge.

Academically, he has a 2.5 grade-point average in core classes and a 2.9 overall GPA. He will take the ACT twice before Christmas, starting with the October test.

Physically, Irvin hasn't filled out his frame, in part because he's a year-round athlete who hasn't gotten the chance to gain weight. Minton says he also hasn't developed the same taste for weightlifting as he has for running.

"Once you get him into college, he'll be focusing on football," Minton says. "He'll be eating more and lifting more (weights). If he takes a redshirt, you could see him at 180 or 185 (pounds) when he's a redshirt freshman."

Irvin has plenty of influences to draw upon at Patterson, which has produced a sizable chunk of college players. Minton regularly brings back former standouts to talk to his current team.

Ike Hilliard, the Florida standout who's now with the New York Giants, came by in the spring to talk to the players. He told them about staying focused in school, staying off the streets and staying around good people, Minton said.

"Blair does remind me of Ike when Ike was that age. They resemble each other with their height and weight and their physical skills."

Other alumni — such as former Southern player Gillis Wilson, current Miami (Fla.) player Kenneth Dangerfield Jr. and former LSU legend Dalton Hilliard — have been by to inspire the youngsters.

Perhaps one day, Irvin will come back to Patterson and do the same.

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