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Could Bruce Irvin’s remarkable story take him to New England?

02.25.12 at 12:20 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — At the NFL scouting combine on Saturday morning, West Virginia pass-rusher Bruce Irvin went to Podium C at Lucas Oil Stadium before a hand full of reporters and stated the obvious.

“I have a different story than a lot of these guys,” Irvin said.

Indeed he does. Unlike many of the other prospects trying to prove their worth to NFL teams, Irvin has been through two different lives. He used to be B.J. Irvin, a dangerous youth from Atlanta who dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and did jail time. He ran with the wrong crowd, had friends who were in gangs. He’s come a long way since being B.J., and when NFL teams ask him about B.J., he introduces them to Bruce.

“They’ve heard the story,” Irvin said. “They’ve read the articles, so they’re questioning me, which I don’t blame. I guess they kind of want to hear it from the horses’ mouth, the whole situation and how it happened.”

B.J. played only one year of high school football, as a wide receiver, but it wasn’t long before he was academically ineligible.

After dropping out and spending a few weeks in jail for two different charges, he got his GED and went to prep school. It was there that he met his mentor, Chad Allen. According to Irvin, Allen saved his life when his life clearly needed saving.

“He would come up there and just talk to the players and the kids and let them know, give them real-life experiences,” Irvin said. “I was homeless and he talked to me. We had a heart-to-heart and he was like, ‘I can’t let you go back to doing what you were doing.’ He opened his door to his house for me.”

Next for Irvin was junior college, and he wanted to get as far away from Atlanta as possible. He tried walking on at Butler Community College in Kansas, but he didn’t make the team. He finally landed in California, where he played at Mt. San Antonio.

It was there that he made the made the team as a safety, or so he though. He was unproductive as a defensive back, not understanding the position well enough to make an impact.

“Being that I only played one year of high school football, I was kind of slow to the game,” he said. “Picking up the coverages and all the extra stuff that it takes to be a free safety, it was just taking me a long time to grasp it and get the concept of it. One day at practice after like the sixth game — I was only playing kickoff and I was a gunner on team — after the sixth game, the coach was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get you on the field some way.’ At practice he put me at D-end, and I just started running by people. Ever since then, I’ve just kept my hand in the dirt.”

That’s where things get interesting when it comes to Irvin’s football resume. He projects to be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, but he never played standing up in college. That’s not too uncommon for OLB prospects, but his playing time was extremely limited for how big his production was.

Irvin said he was too small (weighing around 225 at the time — he measured in at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds at the combine) to play as a down lineman in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 defense, so he would play in different packages. When he was in the game, the quarterback went down (14 sacks as a junior and 8.5 more as a senior), but it wasn’t too often.

“I noticed coming off my junior year, less was more for me,” he said. “Playing six, seven or eight snaps and getting two sacks a game was really productive for me. Not getting injured, coming out of the game without a lot of bruises. I think playing in that defense, I think I benefited from playing less.”

Irvin has blazing speed, and should post one of the faster 40 times among the linebacker prospects at the combine. He hopes teams can see him as more than just a situational pass-rusher, but given that the Patriots could be losing the likes of Mark Anderson in free agency, picking up a situational pass-rusher in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft wouldn’t hurt.

Wherever Irvin goes, he knows it’s better than where he once was. As a teenager, someone offered to take him home one night, but he said he was afraid of the crowd he ran with finding him there. He teared up in the car on the way to the airport on Friday thinking of how far he’s come.

“I can go home [now],” he said Saturday. “I didn’t want to go home at the time. My so-called friends at the time were still involved in [illegal] stuff, and I didn’t want to surround myself or even be in the same state as that. That’s why I went to California, to get as far away as that stuff as I could.”

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL Draft, Bruce Irvin, Mark Anderson
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