RENTON — For Bruce Irvin, rock bottom didn’t come when he was arrested on burglary charges, or when he dropped out of high school, or when his mother felt she had no option but to kick him out of the house.
No, for Irvin, the Seahawks’ first round pick in this year’s NFL draft, the bottom came when he thought that, after overcoming all of that, was going to lose it all over $4,600.
By the time he landed at Mt. San Antonio Junior College, Irvin had gotten his GED, had kept himself out of trouble, and was on the way to becoming a Division I prospect, but all of that was suddenly at risk when he couldn’t afford his out-of-state tuition bill.
“I was doing so good,” Irvin said in his introductory press conference at Seahawks headquarters. “… I actually had to miss spring and I felt like, ‘Man, I did all of this, turned my life around, and another stumble? I might not be able to play football next year.’ But I kept working, the good lord got me through it, and my family came up with the money.”
Clearing that hurdle after so many others, Irving was able to stay in school, eventually end up at West Virginia, and on Saturday he found himself on a podium being introduced by Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
“It’s just unbelievable, I’m telling you,” said Irvin’s mother, Bessie Lee. “It’s like a dream. I always knew he had it in him, but I never would have imagined.”
It’s not uncommon for athlete or a family member to call a big day like this unbelievable, but Lee meant it more than most do on an occasion like this. Back in 2007, she wasn’t sure what her son was doing on a daily basis or where he was living, and every phone call came with a bit of anxiety.
“You hear about, when the call comes through, is he shot?” she said. “Sometimes your mind would run deeper than jail, because I had watched other people’s kids get shot and even die. So you worry about those things, you’ll be like, ‘Oh my Lord, is this call for my child?’ But at the end of the day, you just have to say, ‘Lord, take this,’ because sometimes it can be too much for you.
“It was very hard as a mother to have to stand your ground and let him go through it, but at the same be his mother and still love him from a distance. It was hard.”
Now, five years later, she was watching her son smile for cameras as he prepares for the next chapter in what has already been a life full of ups and downs.
Of course, Irvin knows that this is a long way from the end of his story. Just as he almost lost everything over $4,600 while in junior college, he knows he knows his pro career is equally fragile if he fails to meet expectations on or off the field.
And Irvin knows he has his doubters — people who think he’ll end up in trouble with the law again, or people who just don’t think he is a good enough football player to merit a the No. 15 pick. He understands why people might think that way, but he doesn’t plan on disappointing anyone who has helped him get this far.
“The foolish side that I had back in the day, it is what it is. I can’t change it, but it also made me who I am today, so I don’t regret any of that,” he said. “It showed me how to deal with a lot of stuff. Adversity is a big thing I live by. I’m still facing it today. People say it was a reach to take me that high. Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Mr. Allen, obviously they feel different, and that’s all that matters. I’m not going to let them down.
Irvin’s athleticism is the primary reason he will play football on Sundays starting this fall, but he knows that alone wouldn’t have gotten him this far without a big assist from Chad Allen, who began mentoring Irvin in 2007 not long after Irvin spent a couple of weeks in jail. Allen, a former college football player at Morehouse College in Atlanta, helped Irvin reconnect with his mother, then earn his GED and get into junior college. When Irvin moved to California to attend Mount San Antonio, Allen crashed on the floor for a week at the two-bedroom apartment Irvin was sharing with eight or nine other players to make sure Irvin was settling in OK.
Allen saw in Irvin something special, not just on the football field, but in what the teenager had overcome.
“There were some dark nights not really knowing what he wanted to do, where he wanted to be, but he knew he wanted to be successful and he had that determination from the beginning to be successful,” said Allen, who was also in town to help Irvin celebrate his big day. “He already had it in him, just that fight, because he had come from such a rough background that he knew how to fight. When you have a guy that has been through that much stuff, they do have that intangible that you can’t really explain to persevere and push through.”
Irvin did indeed preserver, and this week that hard work paid off. His story is a long ways from finished, however. Being in the NFL, and the money and attention that come with it, will challenge him in new ways, as will higher level of competition, but after coming so far, Irvin has no intentions of letting anything slow him down.
“I’ve been through a whole lot of worse situations,” he said. “This is going to be difficult, I’m not saying it won’t, but I feel like if I got through that, I can get through anything.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.