By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The dreads were the same, long and flowing, as he ran through his drills in the Caperton Indoor Facility at West Virginia University, the eyes of a dozen or more scouts and head coaches Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears peering down upon Bruce Irvin as he went through his paces on NFL Pro Day.
In truth, he may look more impressive in shorts and a T-shirt than he does in his football armor, for you can see that the 243 pounds he is now carrying around with him at 4.43 seconds for 40 yards is exactly as it should be.
He is talented and ambitious, driven to make something of himself and confident that he will.
Most of the players who performed, the likes of Don Barclay and Najee Goode and Keith Tandy among others, are pushing to be drafted. With Irvin, who will fit into the NFL either as defensive end in the 4-3 defense or outside linebacker in the 3-4, it is a question of where in the draft he will be drafted.
And as one of the more confident players you will ever see, he isn’t listening to those projections that have him going in the second or third round.
“You think about it,” he said, when asked what his thoughts on the matter are. “You see guys going in the second, third and fourth rounds. I’ve said it before in an interview. … I’m a confident guy, and I don’t think there are 32 players who are better than me in this country.
“It’s a dream just to be in this situation. If I go first round, that would be a big accomplishment. I could tell my kids about that the rest of my life, but just being drafted is an accomplishment, just getting a shot at your dreams is the best.”
Everyone who plays college football is dreaming the dream, but it is not as big or fulfilling a dream as it is for Irvin, who came out the shadow of Stone Mountain in Georgia, a troubled youth who had taken all of life’s wrong paths, paths that led not to the NFL but to prison.
It is a gripping story and one that he now is telling over and over.
“Obviously they ask you,” he said. “They want to know already, but they want to see if you tell the truth. I had to tell my story maybe 80 or 90 times. I don’t blame them. They want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
And that is just what has happened with Irvin, having gone from one end of the horse to the other.
“I just have to suck it up and tell them. I was B.J. then; I’m Bruce Irvin now. That’s two different people. I’ve grown to be a better person,” he says to them and offers as proof the fact that he is here now on the verge of reaching his dreams.
“You never want to go through the situation I went through. A lot of people who went through what I did wouldn’t be standing here,” he said. “I had so much adversity. People told me I wouldn’t be here. I dug deep and I did what people said I wasn’t going to do. I surrounded myself with great people; people who always told me the truth, not a bunch of yes men.”
He went from having nothing to the brink of being a millionaire, a famous, maybe first-round choice millionaire.
It will, he knows, change his life, but he says he can’t allow himself to look at it that way.
“You never think about the money side of it. I have a love for this game that words can’t explain. This game saved my life, so when people question me and my love for the game, it really offends me,” he said.
“I heard the money is great, but you have to be smart. There’s a lot of guys who had the money and they are broke now. I’ll be honest, if I’m fortunate to get that kind of money, I don’t want to be broke when I retire and go get a job. You have to be smart.
“It’s a dream come true. My mom is happy for me. She saw where I was and where I am today.”
The wait for draft day will be excruciating. He has already had nine individual team workouts to go with the NFL Combine, where he ran that 4.43, and Pro Day.
More individual workouts will come as teams probe his mind and body, test him as he’s never been tested, trying to see if he is the right fit for them.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.