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Vic Ketchman

Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 40 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.

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Irvin must convince teams he's no risk

Posted Feb 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS—Bruce Irvin is asking to be forgiven his sins. The team that does might be blessed with a lot of sacks.

The Irvin saga is about the ravages of poverty and the resurrection of spirit. Somehow, Irvin avoided falling through the proverbial cracks of hard times that have claimed so many young men with talent.

He was homeless as a teenager. He spent time in jail. The details are dismal.

Did you ever think you’d be here, he was asked by reporters at the scouting combine?

“It actually started to sink in on my way to the airport. I was kind of getting teared up in the car,” he said.

Irvin is a classic 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in this year’s draft. The teams that need such a player, which is to say a player that offers the potential to sack a lot of quarterbacks, will look hard at Irvin. If they can swallow just as hard and look past the rough spots on his resume, they might one day be thankful they did.

“I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta. Dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. Kind of got into some trouble running with the wrong crowd. Finally saw the light. Got my GED. Took the test. Passed all five parts on the first time. I went to school and I never looked back,” Irvin said.

“They’ve heard the story, they’ve read the articles,” he added of the NFL scouts. “They’re questioning me, which I don’t blame them. They want to hear it from the horse’s mouth about how it happened.”

Irvin eventually ended up at West Virginia, where he registered 14 sacks as a junior in WVU’s unique 3-3-5 defense. Irvin played down end, which won’t suit his 6-3, 245-pound frame at all in the NFL. It didn’t even work well in his senior season at WVU. Irvin had to reduce his snaps, which cut his sacks to 8.5.

The potential for sack stardom as a 3-4 rush backer in the NFL, however, is distinct. Irvin claims to run a 4.5 40. If he runs that fast on Monday, he will become one of the fastest-rising guys in this draft. Sacks are king in today’s NFL.

But has he legitimately turned his life around? That’s the even bigger question that has to be answered.

“They can check my past for the last four or five years. I’ve got a lot of people who can vouch for me and say that I’m no longer that person I was. I went by B.J. Now I’m Bruce. That’s how I tell them,” Irvin said.

He credits one man for having saved his life. One guy decided he wanted to save someone. It’s a story similar to Ravens tackle Michael Oher’s, but the movie has already been made and Irvin’s story isn’t likely to be told as sensitively.

“I was homeless, pretty much. He took me under his wing and let me live with him and started training me, sent me to junior college and paid my tuition. It took off from there,” Irvin said of a man named Chad Allen.

Why did he do it?

“I never asked him. I started getting free meals, you know. I didn’t have to struggle no more. Didn’t have to bounce house to house. Honestly, he didn’t ask me for anything. He didn’t ask me for money. He didn’t ask me for nothing. All he asked me was to work hard and just strive to be the best I can be,” Irvin said.

He was talking from the heart now, as he no doubt was when he told the story to scouts and coaches this weekend in personal interviews at the combine.

Someone will draft him. What team will do it? In what round will they do it? Will they regret it?

Additional coverage - Feb. 26

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