INDIANAPOLIS - Each year the Combine is littered with a variety of players from all sorts of backgrounds. One of the most interesting stories thus far is that of West Virginia outside linebacker Bruce Irvin.
In less than five years Irvin has gone from a troubled team who spent time in juvenile jail to a solid mid-round prospect as a pass rusher.
"I have a different story from a lot of these guys," Irvin began when asked about his troubled past. "I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta, dropped out of high school in 11th grade, got in some troubling running with the wrong crowd. Then I finally saw the light, got my GED, passed all five parts on the first try, and that January I went to school and I never looked back.
"I was in jail for two charges but was only in there for about three weeks. They've heard the story, they've read the articles but they want to hear from the horse's mouth. The whole situation and how it happened."
Irvin's luck changed when he met a man named Chad Allen in Atlanta. While trying to prepare for his GED, Irvin was attending a prep school for troubled teens but the program folded. Allen was a regular at the school, speaking with the youngsters about their lives while trying to provide alternatives and advice.
Irvin got both - in spades.
"My mentor saved my life, Chad Allen," Irvin explained. "I was homeless pretty much. He took me under his wing, let me live with him and started training me, sent me to junior college, paid my tuition and it took off from there. He would come [to the prep school] and talk to the kids and give them real life experiences. He talked with me and he was like 'I can't let you go back to what you were doing' and he opened up his house to me.
"Honestly, he doesn't ask me for anything. All he asks of me is to work hard and strive to be the best I can be."
Irvin completed his GED in December of 2007 and wound up attending San Antonio Junior College for the 2009 season. He had 72 tackles, 21 for loss and 16 sacks and became the envy of most every major college program in the country. He said he received 27 offers but chose West Virginia because he wanted "a program that needed me as much as I needed them."
His two years in Morgantown featured more of the same - 14 sacks in 2010 and a first-team All-Big East selection in 2011. Now he's hoping to show teams his troubles are in the past and he's ready to bring his abilities to the NFL. He's been working out in Orlando with respected conditioning coach Tom Shaw and trying to develop some linebacker skills beyond rushing the passer.
"It's going to be a lot different a the NFL level and I understand that," said Irvin, who admitted he's always played as a down linemen. "I've always been faster than the guys trying to block me, so there will be some techniques that I'm going to need to learn in order to improve."
There's no question that Irvin is very much in a work in progress, in more ways than one, but his talent and perseverance make him a guy to keep an eye on in April.