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Starting Fresh

Posted Apr 10, 2012

West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin overcame a rough start to be considered one of the top pass rushers available in the 2012 NFL Draft.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --
At the age of 18, Bruce Irvin dropped out of high school. Now, Irvin is dropping opposing quarterbacks.

His path to the NFL includes stints at two different high schools and three colleges. His football career includes just one season of high school football -- as a wide receiver -- one year of junior college football as a safety/situational pass rusher and finally two years at West Virginia where he excelled as a third-down pass rusher.

After a strong showing at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, he is widely regarded as one of the top pass-rushers available in the draft.

Four years ago, when he was bouncing from home to home, stealing and dealing drugs to get by, he never dreamed of an NFL Scouting Combine invitation or being talked about in the same sentence as the NFL.

“It actually started to sink in on my way to the airport,” Irvin said at the combine. “I started to tear up in the car because I come from a rough situation. So just being able to be here and almost be in the NFL is just a blessing.”

The rough situation that Irvin refers to is what drove him to junior college in California, as far away from his hometown in the Atlanta area that he could get.

“There isn't anything at home but trouble so I wanted to get as far as possible away,” he would later say. “You can't go any further than Cali without leaving the country."

After one of his friends was arrested for cocaine trafficking, Irvin decided it was time to get his life together.

With the help of family and friends, Irvin studied for and passed the GED. From there, it was on to junior college at Butler Community College in Kansas. After one semester there, it was on to Mt. San Antonio in California.

“My mentor is a guy who saved my life, Chad Allen,” Irvin said. “I was homeless, pretty much. And he took me under his wing and let me live with him and train with him. Paid my tuition and it took off from there.”

At Mt. San Antonio, Irvin began as a free safety, but struggled in coverage. Midway through the team’s season, he was converted to defensive end to take advantage of his speed.

He finished that season with a team-best 72 tackles, including 16 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss, leading Scout.com to rank him the No. 2 overall junior college prospect.

After originally committing to Tennessee, then Arizona State, Irvin wound up at West Virginia, where he flourished as a pass-rush specialist and special teamer. He ranked second in the nation in sacks behind Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers — currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- in his first season at the Division I-FBS level, despite playing only a handful of snaps per game.

He finished his two-year career at West Virginia with 22.5 sacks, earning honorable mention All-America honors after his first year with the Mountaineers.

A strong showing at the combine, where he posted a 4.5-second forty-yard dash to lead all defensive linemen, has him being talked about as a potential first-round pick, despite starting only six games at the Division-I level.

Despite critics that say he’s too small to excel against NFL-caliber talent, Irvin isn’t concerned.

After overcoming the overwhelming obstacles that he has thus far, he’s ready to take the next step on his journey.

“It is going to be different at the next level,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to the challenge.”


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