The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 10, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bruce Irvin enjoys ‘marked man’ label

MORGANTOWN — Last fall, back when football was football and the drama was in who would win and who would lose, Bruce Irvin emerged as a budding national star, chasing after harried quarterbacks the way a lion chases an eland in the wild.

Who knew Irvin really had very little idea how to play the game?

Irvin came to West Virginia University out of nowhere, possessing signature dreadlocks over a body that was covered with tattoos. He has a long face with exaggerated features and a pair of eyes that can be piercing at his most serious or bubbling with his easy laugh.

He was something of a mystery man when he arrived in mid-summer, 2010, having come from a California junior college named Mt. San Antonio.

He had grown up in Stone Mountain, Ga., but felt he needed to escape the negative influences of the area that were acting like magnets as they tried to draw him in. While he doesn’t speak in specifics, he lets you know that he was not exactly an angel.

He was a wide receiver in high school but needed to get his academics in order if he was going to play college football, so he went off to Mt. San Antonio where he helped them to a 13-1 record and a national championship as a linebacker.

His speed and quickness were legendary, 16 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, 21 tackles for losses.

If only he knew how to play football.

“I didn’t learn anything about football in junior college,” he said. “We didn’t even lift weights. No weights, no film.”

They just turned him loose.

“It’s junior college. You are playing football to have fun. Here? You better get right or you get left,” he said.

His late arrival last summer meant that he really didn’t learn much here during his first year.

“Last year, I didn’t even know the calls. I was standing by J.T. (Thomas) in a game, asking ‘What was the call, man?’” he admitted.

That’s why he was a third-down specialist. He wasn’t ready to do much more than rush the quarterback, something that came naturally.

“I didn’t learn a lot during the season. It’s so quick, and you have to prepare for each team. You don’t have time,” he said.

And so it was that was a crucial spring for Irvin as they prepared him to become an every-down player, to know the defenses and to learn the problem techniques, those taught courtesy of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and more by defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich.

“In the spring, Kirlav and Casteel taught me a lot of useful techniques. Me and Julian (Miller) are really undersized, so he pounded it home, how we have stay low and use our hands right, get skinny so we can squeeze through,” Irvin said.

That he recorded 14 sacks last year while not playing every down certainly makes him a target this year, so he can expect a lot of double teams, while being undersized he knows they will try to run at him, maybe overpowering him and certainly neutralizing the speed he can use to run down plays.

That doesn’t worry him.

“It’s technique,” said this man who a year ago had none. “I’ve got Kirlav teaching us how to take on double blocks. It’s a leverage game. He can’t do nothing if I get under him. I’m driving him like a steering wheel.”

And Irvin knows he’s in the driver’s seat.

“I win some, I lose some, but I guarantee I’ll win more than I lose,” he said.

He understands his presence is going to force teams to do a lot of throwing on three-step drops, which added to double teams, should cut down on his sack totals.

But it also will cut down on how long defensive backs will have to chase receivers and open up Miller to harass quarterbacks.

It is, to put it bluntly, a sack of trouble for opposing offenses.

“Being a marked man is crazy,” he said. “It’s good, but then it’s bad. It’s good because they respect you, but I want to make plays. It’s something I’ll get used to.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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