There is a picture floating around on the Internet of Bruce Irvin, his 2014 Super Bowl champion ball cap twisted sideways and infant son in one arm, working his way through the mass of humanity on the field at MetLife Stadium while someone manages to slow him down long enough to stick a microphone in the middle of that 5,000-megawatt smile of his.
Yes, he clearly has a lot to smile about these days. Two years after becoming a Seattle Seahawks’ first-round draft choice, four years after leaving junior college for West Virginia University, and nine years after dropping out of high school, Bruce Irvin is a world champion — the very best there is at what he does.
There are only seven other football players from WVU who can make that claim, but none of them took a similar path to the top.
It was during his nomadic existence running the streets of Atlanta in 2007 when one of his homeboys told him to do something else with his life — use the talents you were blessed with and get the hell out of this place before it’s too late.
Fortunately Irvin was listening, so he went back to earn his GED and tried to become a walk-on football player at Butler Community College. Unsatisfied with the opportunities he had there, he went to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, with hardly a dime in his pocket.
Eventually, he became one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the country and all those college coaches who once ignored him when he was just an ordinary player at Stephenson High in Georgia were now giving him more attention than he could ever imagine.
One of those college coaches was West Virginia’s Lonnie Galloway, who knew about Irvin from his days recruiting the Atlanta area.
“You try and build relationships with kids and learn as much as you can about them,” Galloway explained. “I told him, ‘I’m not bringing your butt up here to screw up. If you come up here and screw up again, it’s on me, too!’”
But Irvin was beyond that, having spent two years living on the floor of an apartment he shared with seven other guys, swatting away cockroaches to get some sleep, and eating Ramen noodles and potato chips in order to escape the life he once lived.
Irvin made his first official visit to WVU, spending time with former Mountaineer defensive lineman Scooter Berry, and he committed to the Mountaineer coaching staff that weekend. Then later, after he went on a visit to Arizona State where he was showed an even better time, he got all caught up in the excitement there and committed to them.
“I was upset,” admitted Galloway. “But I gave it a couple of weeks before I called him.”
Galloway reminded Irvin of all of the things that he said he was seeking in a college — a small town with a good, safe environment where everyone there cared about him. A place where he could have a good time and meet people who could help him get to where he wanted to go in life, but not a place where there were too many distractions.
A place just like West Virginia University.
Once his head cleared, Irvin realized that WVU was the right place for him. And two years after that, he put that great education he received to good use.
In fact, West Virginia made such an impression on him that he used a portion of his professional signing bonus to help the football team construct a new weight training facility, one which will benefit thousands of Mountaineer athletes for many years to come.
“I chose West Virginia because I felt like it was the perfect fit — and it was … it showed me what a family really was.”
Irvin is also a frequent visitor to Morgantown, attaching his name to just about any cause involving children. Recently, Irvin was in town for a United Way event being put on by WVU Assistant Professor Elizabeth Oppe promoting healthy lifestyles for local youths. There was Super Bowl champion Bruce Irvin, flashing that toothy million-dollar smile of his, having a blast playing air hockey with a bunch of underprivileged kids.
“I chose West Virginia because I felt like it was the perfect fit — and it was,” Irvin once said. “It certainly helped me get to where I am, but it also showed me what a family really was.
“Not talking bad about my family, but playing for this state and this school … you’re family. It taught me about loyalty, and when I was going into the draft the only people who believed in me were West Virginians, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.”
These days Irvin says he frequently sees the Flying WV in airports whenever he’s traveling, and he usually makes it a point to stop for a minute and say hello. After spending two of the most important years of his life here, he’s come to understand why WVU is such a special place. It’s special, of course, because of the people.
“God forbid this ever happens, but if I ever felt like I needed anything or needed a job, I’m sure I could come back to West Virginia and get back on my feet. A lot of people can’t say that about a university, or a town they went to school in.”