The winter is particularly tough for Bruce Irvin.
He can’t help it.
Despite being a member of Seattle’s vaunted defense and set to play in his first Super Bowl on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, he still flashes back to his days of being homeless and living on the streets of Atlanta.
“Just around this time of the year, when it’s cold and you (don’t ) have anywhere to go,” Irvin said, when asked what he remembered most from his homeless days. “You are bouncing (around). It was a tough situation. But like I said, I wouldn’t change it for nothing. It made me who I am.”
He had a rugged home life and was expelled from his house by his mother, Bessie Lee. Irvin attempted to move from Stockbridge to Stephenson High, but ended up never playing in high school.
“I just wanted to go somewhere to get recruited,” Irvin said. “I went over there, me and Perry Riley, who plays for the Redskins now. We went over there and tried to get on (the team), but obviously my plan didn’t work.”
Irvin, with his football dream deferred, ended up getting involved with some unsavory characters and spent time in jail. However, he believes that God was looking out for him.
Things started to change May 14, 2007. He was living in a drug house in Gwinnett County, but needed to make a quick run to a gas station.
“My house got raided,” Irvin said. “I went to the store. I just missed it. The police ran in. I was living in a house that they sold drugs out of. … That was an eye-opener moment. That’s when I really figured out and felt like that God had a plan for me after that.”
It was an omen for him to turn things around.
“After that I took the GED test,” Irvin said. “I went in to take the test and I passed all five parts the first time. … I took my test Dec. 12. I got my results Dec. 21, and that January I went to junior college.”
Overcoming that education obstacle was a major hurdle.
“I kind of felt like it was freedom,” Irvin said. “It was my path to get out of the situation that I was in and get out of Atlanta.”
He enrolled at Mount San Antonio Junior College in California and played one season before transferring to West Virginia. He was drafted in the first round in 2012, 15th overall.
Irvin had a solid first season, leading all rookies with eight sacks and 19 quarterback hits in 16 games. Last spring, Irvin was suspended for four games after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He became the fifth Seahawk suspended for a PED violation since 2011.
The transition from defensive end to linebacker has challenged him. This season, Irvin had only two sacks over 12 regular-season games. He said the biggest obstacle was “learning the pass concepts and dropping in coverage.”
His rough upbringing helped him fight through the suspension and the position change.
“Anytime that I face adversity I never fold up because I’m used to it,” Irvin said. “I think God had a plan for me. I did a lot of crazy stuff, but he was always there for me. He looked out for me to make sure that nothing happened to me.”
Ironically, he drew some inspiration from some of the drug dealers he lived with.
“They pulled for me,” Irvin said. “One dude called me and said, ‘Bruce, God had a plan for you.’ Obviously, you could have been in that house, but you left for a reason. Everybody always told me to get out and better myself, but it really just took that moment to recognize that.”
Also, he meet Chad Allen, a Morehouse graduate, who wanted to know why Irvin stayed after hearing Allen give a speech to troubled teens. Irvin eventually told Allen that he didn’t have any place to go.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Chad,” Irvin said. “He took me in and helped me get my GED. I was homeless and living on the streets, and he took me in his house. Chad is like my brother and a father-figure all in one. I’m definitely blessed to have a guy like him in my corner.”
Irvin is proud of how his life has turned out.
“Coming from my situation, it made me who I am today,” Irvin said. “I wouldn’t change my story if I had to. I started at the bottom.”