Irvin Legit but Questions Persist

Steelers schedule interview with WVU's freakish pass-rusher, hope to determine future from difficult past.

INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Irvin was a back-up, a situational pass-rusher at West Virginia University, but yet the Pittsburgh Steelers see him as a fit.

"He's legit," said one of their scouts.

They've scheduled an interview with Irvin, and why not? Even as a mere situational player, Irvin piled up 22½ sacks in his two seasons in Morgantown.

There's no question about his skills, but there are questions about his character.

There have to be.

"I was in jail," Irvin told reporters Saturday at the NFL combine, and he stopped there.

Of course, to NFL personnel people, he had to say more. Much more.

"I've gone over this a hundred thousand times," Irvin told reporters. "I have a different story than a lot of these guys."

Irvin grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta and played only three games of high school football before his prep career ended as a sophomore due to poor grades

He was a street kid and got into trouble, transferred high schools, and then quit that school in the middle of his junior year. He became a full-time thug and eventually was arrested for robbery and spent three weeks in jail.

At that point, Irvin "finally saw the light. Got my GED. Took the test. Passed all five parts on the first time. Then in January I went to school and I never looked back."

He went to Butler Community College in Kansas and took classes but did not play any football. He transferred to Mt. San Antonio Junior College in California and showed coaches a workout tape. They put him in pads, got him on the field, pointed to the quarterback, and said, "Sick him."

Irvin responded with 16 sacks in one season, and then ran a 4.37 40 at a junior-college combine. That's when 27 offers poured in. He eventually settled on WVU.

"I kind of wanted to go somewhere that needed me as much as I needed them," Irvin said. "I had all the big schools, but I kind of wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. West Virginia was a perfect fit, the best decision that I've made."

But he wasn't that perfect of a fit. A natural 3-4 outside linebacker, Irvin couldn't find a starting position in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 scheme, so on passing downs he entered the game and put his hand down as a 5-technique on the defensive line.

"The 3-3-5 is a very unique defense," Irvin said. "It usually requires the three down linemen to be at least 260 and plus. As you know I'm not 260. During the season I was probably 225 or 230. So by my senior year I started a couple games, like four to five games, but it just wasn't working out and I noticed coming off my junior year that less was more for me.

"Me playing six, seven, eight snaps and getting two sacks a game was really productive for me, and not getting injured coming out of the game with not a lot of bruises. So I think in that defense I benefitted from playing less."

Irvin never played a snap at WVU without putting his hand in the dirt, but with his speed and his wingspan and his prototypical 6-3, 245-pound 3-4 outside linebacker size, he expects to play more than six to eight snaps a game in the NFL.

"It was just the defense I was in," he repeated. "Like I said, I benefitted more from playing less, but absolutely I think I can be an every-down player."

To that end he's been working as a standup linebacker under the guidance of speed coach Tom Shaw. It's expected to result in Irvin being picked in the second or third round in April – if scouts are convinced he's turned his life around for good.

"They're questioning me, and I don't blame them," Irvin said. "They can check my past for the last four or five years. I've got a lot of people who can vouch for me and say that I'm no longer that person I was. I went by B.J. Now I'm Bruce. That's what I tell them."

Irvin can direct scouts to his mentor, Chad Allen, a man who let Irvin into his house in California and paid for his tuition, a man whom Irvin said "saved my life."

Irvin can also point to Ike Taylor, the Steelers cornerback with whom Irvin has spent his time in Orlando.

Of course, NFL teams are worried more about the future, of what Irvin will do once he gets the money.

"I don't do it for materialistic things," Irvin said. "That's what the average football fan thinks: ‘When you get the money he wants the cars and the jewelry and stuff.' But man, I just want to be able to let my mom retire and buy her a house or something, just make sure she's comfortable and just make sure she's doing everything that she wants to do while she's still living."

He sounds convincing. Stay tuned.

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