RENTON — Rock bottom for Bruce Irvin wasn’t the time he spent two weeks locked up in jail when he was a teenager.
It came after Irvin had turned his life around and overcome nearly all of the hardship of his upbringing in Atlanta and was trying to thrive in junior college in California with football as his guide. Just when Irvin was finally headed down the right path in his life, the struggle to come up with the $4,600 for tuition nearly derailed everything Irvin had worked toward.
“I kind of felt like I had done all this, turned my life around and another stumble and I might not be able to play football next year,” Irvin recalled. “I kept working and the good Lord got me through it and my family came up with the money and I made it through that. I’ve been through a whole lot worse situations.”
Money will soon not be a problem for Irvin, who was introduced Saturday after being picked in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks. Irvin was taken with the 15th overall pick, a selection that was considered a reach by some draft pundits, but instantly fills Seattle’s desire to add a speed pass rusher coming off the edge.
“People say 15 was a reach. I don’t’ think it was a reach. I didn’t expect to go 15, I’m not going to like about that, but they felt different and I don’t blame them for it,” Irvin said. “I’m going to come in here and it’s going to pay off for them.”
Irvin was the centerpiece of a draft that was decidedly defensive minded as Seattle spent eight of its 10 picks on defensive players — although one of those is being moved to offense. But none of the additions Seattle made to its defense has the backstory that matches its first-round pick.
Rough upbringing: check.
Jail time as a youth: check.
High school dropout: check.
“There were some lonely dark nights not knowing what he wanted to do, where he wanted to be,” said Chad Allen, Irvin’s mentor. “But he knew he wanted to be successful and he had that determination from the beginning to be successful and all he needed was just the blueprint and how to be. With a lot of kids at the end of the day they just don’t know how to achieve success.”
Irvin’s story turned when he was pointed in the direction of Allen, an Atlanta area coach and mentor. Allen provided guidance pointed directly at Irvin’s chances at a future in football, but with a firm hand of everything that needed to be done to accomplish that goal. That meant passing the GED after dropping out of high school, originally going to Butler Community College in Kansas and eventually landing at Mt. San Antonio College in California.
That’s where Irvin’s comeback almost ended over less than $5,000. But the money was found, even though Irvin had to withdraw from school for a short time, and he became one of the top junior college players in the country before becoming a star at West Virginia.
And along his entire journey, Allen was there to help. That’s why Irvin made sure along with his mother and girlfriend, Allen came along with Irvin to the Pacific Northwest for his introduction.
“He was there when no one else was,” Irvin said of Allen. “It’s not about the money. He’s the one who wants me to keep working hard and keep me successful. Chad’s a great person.”
While Irvin’s backstory and his journey to the NFL is fascinating, the focus now turns to how the Seahawks intend to use Irvin and if he can be more than just a pass-rush specialist. Even before the first offseason team activities arrive, coach Pete Carroll has it in mind to use Irvin in the role that Raheem Brock filled the last two seasons as a pass-rush specialist on passing downs, occasionally slotted in to other situations. Brock was a standout in 2010 with nine sacks, but struggled to match that production last season.
“We just have to bring him along and make him understand what’s expected of him and bring out the best he has to offer,” Carroll said. “It’s really clear to us. We have a unique position, we’ve already been between a 4-3 and a 3-4 team in our expectations of the personnel and that’s why it’s a rare opportunity for us to find a guy that really fits it just right.”
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