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A degree of dedication: Super Bowl champ Irvin comes home to graduate at WVU

Bruce wide


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WRITTEN BY JAKE STUMP  
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BRIAN PERSINGER AND DALE SPARKS

Super Bowl champion.
Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. 
Graduate of the West Virginia University Class of 2018. 
As might read the resume of Bruce Irvin.

The 30-year-old defensive lineman left WVU in 2012 to pursue every little boy's dream of making it to the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks drafted him as that year's 15th overall pick. 

Less than two years later, he'd help lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.  

In 2016, "Bruuuuuuuuce" would take his defensive prowess to the Oakland Raiders, where he'd be named a Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate for his charitable efforts off the field.  

Not bad for a high school dropout who got sucked into the streets of Atlanta and "robbed, been robbed and did (all sorts of) crazy stuff you'd never imagine." (Read more about Irvin's journey in this story by John Antonik.)  

And despite his ascension from skid row to professional sports superstardom, Irvin had unfinished business to take care of at WVU.  

Six years after leaving Morgantown, Irvin has earned his Regents Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Education and Human Services. He participated in its Saturday commencement ceremony at the Coliseum. 

 
"When I came here (to WVU), my intention was to just go into the NFL, honestly," Irvin said Friday while touring his old stomping grounds at Milan Puskar Stadium. "This is just icing on the cake right here. I came here. I played. I went to the NFL. And I can finally say I got my degree here also. 

"I do really well with my money, so I didn't have to get my degree. It was something I looked at that was bigger than me. It's for my son. It's for my mom. And it's for everybody who really didn't believe in me. I just proved myself right. 

"People can go up to my son and say, 'Your father's an NFL player.' And he can say, 'Yeah, he's an NFL player and he also graduated from college. He graduated from West Virginia University. That's stuff money can't buy."

Bruce Irvin WV logo
Bruce Irvin poses by a Flying WV inside the WVU football facility during a visit to campus in May 2018 (Photo by Dale Sparks).

Irvin, who caught a red-eye flight Thursday from California to be in Morgantown for commencement weekend, almost chose not to don the cap and gown and walk onto the stage. 

"I was a little hesitant to walk at first," he said. "But my Raider people convinced me. They said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And considering where I came from – I had a GED and never thought about walking across the college stage for anything. I definitely deserve to walk and it gives me another chance to come back home." 

Up to 20 members of Irvin's family were in Morgantown to witness this latest milestone. One was his young son Brayden, who's already being groomed for Mountaineerdom. 

He told Tony Caridi in a sitdown interview Friday about the time his wife bought their son a basketball with the logo of a rival WVU team on it. 

"I came home and was like, 'What is this?'" Irvin said. "'(She said) well, you know, I got it from the store and…' I picked the ball up and there's a bunch of woods behind the house and I threw it into the woods."

Bruce Irvin vs Pitt
                                                     Irvin gestures during the WVU-Pitt game in 2011 (Photo by Allison Toffle). 

Irvin could easily be singing the praises of another university instead, particularly the Arizona State Sun Devils. In fact, Irvin committed to Arizona State…after he committed to WVU. 

Lonnie Galloway, who was then a receivers coach for WVU, had recruited Irvin and wound up convincing him to change his mind back to WVU. 

"I think about 'what if,'" Irvin said. "I do. I wouldn't have gotten the love that I have now. I chose WVU because I could come here, stand out and the people would remember me. That's the thing. I wanted to go wherever they needed me as much as I needed them." 

Irvin has frequently returned to the Mountain State since leaving. His wife is a Charleston native and he's spent many of his trips back serving the community. For instance, a few years ago, he came to Morgantown to play air hockey and pass footballs with local youth at a United Way event promoting healthy lifestyles. 

Bruce Irvin passing to a kid
Irvin hurls a football to Isabella Udiel at a United Way event in Morgantown (Photo by M.G. Ellis)

And although he's a Georgia native and spent just two years on the WVU football squad, this will forever be his home. 

"It's a family environment," he said. "When I was getting drafted, people were talking about me going in the third or fourth round. But everyone in the state believed I'd go in the first round. And when I went, people sent me videos of people in downtown Morgantown celebrating like we'd won a national championship. It's more than me being a football player here. It's a family. That's why I will always consider this place home."