What would be B.J. Irvin’s reaction to where Bruce Irvin found himself on Saturday?
“B.J. would say, ‘Bruce, you were smart for changing your name. You’re smart for getting out of the situation that you were in, and hanging with the people you was hanging with and finally seeing the light before it was too late, ’ ” Irvin said. “Because God wasn’t going to keep sparing me.”
B.J., remember, was what Irvin used to go by back in the day when he was worried about where he was going to sleep at night after dropping out of high school. Bruce is what he goes by now, when his concerns are centering more on just how much pressure he’s going to be able to apply on opposing quarterbacks for a Seahawks’ defense that was in need of a pass rusher with his speed and skills.
And Irvin can’t wait until the first time he hears his name at CenturyLink Field this season.
“I’ve heard about the 12th Man, and I’ve heard it’s a college environment,” he said of the game-day experience at CenturyLink that he has yet to experience. “I can’t wait to hear 60,000 yelling and carrying on the tradition of “Bruuuuce.” ’
It’s a tradition that he ignited the past two seasons at West Virginia by collecting 22.5 sacks. What ignited the tradition is what prompted the Seahawks to use the 15th pick in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft on Irvin.
“This is really an exciting thing for us,” said coach Pete Carroll, who also did his share of smiling and grinning and laughing during Irvin’s animated Q&A with reporters in the auditorium at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
For Carroll, make that finally an exciting thing. He had tried to recruit Irvin while Carroll was coaching at USC and the explosively quick pass rusher was playing at Mt. San Antonio Junior College. Things didn’t work out then. But they did on Thursday night, when Carroll was determined to not just find any rusher to help a defense that generated 33 sacks last season, but the one he ended up with. Finally.
“I had the vision for him playing for us at USC in the same exact role that we’re asking him to fit into now,” Carroll said, smiling again. “We’re ecstatic to have a chance to put him in this role.
“We’re also anxious to have him show everybody how he can do what he can do as a person, and to prove to people that if you get a second opportunity – a second chance – sometimes you really can make it work out in a great fashion and he’s going to stand for that.”
For what seemed like a nightmarishly long period of his life, Irvin wasn’t sure what he stood for – or where life might lead him. But it certainly wasn’t in front of the glow from the TV lights that greeted him on Saturday.
Poor grades ended his sophomore season at Stephenson High School after only three games. He transferred to Stockbridge High School, only to drop out of school as a junior. He left home and spent two years on the streets and had a run-in with the law.
But, as Carroll said, this story has a second-chance chapter that is the stuff of a made-for-TV movie. Irvin got his GED, tried one JC (Butler Community College) and then settled on Mt. San Antonio.
The rest? Well, all you had to see to answer that question was the smile on Irvin’s face, and the smiles it provoked from others.
Irvin couldn’t have done it alone, and didn’t have to because of two people who accompanied him on his trip from Atlanta to Seattle – his mother, Bessie Lee; and his mentor, Chad Allen.
Allen stepped in when Irvin wasn’t living at home and forced him to toe his line, or else.
“It’s a testament to his discipline, and football is a very disciplined game,” said Allen, who also played college football and has mentored other at-risk athletes. “I know where he’s come from, and how hard we’ve both worked just to get him in a position where he can make his name extra proud.
“There were some lonely and dark nights not really knowing what he wanted to do, where he wanted to be. But he knew he wanted to be successful, and he had that determination from the beginning to be successful. All he needed was a blueprint.”
Irvin’s mother was grateful because she got her son back.
“It hurt us a lot,” she said. “I had to let him go. And that was very hard, because we had always been close. I just knew God had something for him. I just didn’t know it was going to be this big.”