Fal­cons’ new pass rusher happy to be home in At­lanta

Ledger-Enquirer - - Sports - BY GE­ORGE HENRY

Bruce Irvin has wanted to play for the At­lanta Fal­cons since he was a kid.

Now that the sev­enth-year pass rusher is back home and about to make his Fal­cons de­but, Irvin said he won’t take this op­por­tu­nity for granted.

It’s a re­birth for a 31-year-old who ac­knowl­edges he made bad de­ci­sions as an At­lanta teenager and now gets a chance to re­write his lo­cal legacy.

“Yes­ter­day it hit me a lit­tle bit,” Irvin said Thurs­day. “I know that I look scared but I re­ally was cry­ing yes­ter­day, this is a child­hood dream for me. Grow­ing up, watch­ing Michael Vick, and guys like Ter­ance Mathis … this was al­ways my dream so for me to be able to come and live it out it was a sur­real mo­ment and I’m just very for­tu­nate to be an At­lanta Fal­con right now.”

Irvin was cut last Satur­day by Oak­land, part of a house­clean­ing with the re­build­ing Raiders. He cleared waivers and was a free agent with of­fers from sev­eral teams.

He never doubted where he wanted to land.

“My agent said, ‘You know ev­ery­body thinks you’re go­ing to At­lanta,’ and I said un­der my breath, ‘Well, they’re right,’ ” Irvin said. “So it was no com­par­i­son, man. My fam­ily is here. My wife is from here. It was a child­hood dream.”

Irvin said life passed him by grow­ing up in nearby Stone Moun­tain. He watched friends from Stephen­son High School – Perry Ri­ley, Kelvin Shep­pard and Jer­maine Cun­ning­ham – fo­cus on their foot­ball ca­reers while he was get­ting hav­ing run-ins with law en­force­ment

and con­stantly putting him­self in dan­ger.

“I was out in the streets do­ing stuff, and those guys were get­ting four-year schol­ar­ships to Florida and LSU and it hurt me,” Irvin said. “It hurt me see­ing those guys go off, and I was just around here do­ing God knows what. It was a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor. Look at me now. I out­lasted Perry and Jer­maine (in the NFL). Shep­pard just got on so, but it was a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor. I’m glad that I fig­ured it out and got my head on straight.”

Irvin re­turned re­cently to Stephen­son to meet with stu­dents and of­fer some ad­vice.

“Like I said, I never played at Stephen­son,” he said. “I didn’t play foot­ball since the ninth grade and I didn’t play for six years. Go­ing back there and let­ting those young guys know that any­thing is pos­si­ble. You can be in the worst sit­u­a­tion and if you sur­round your­self by the right peo­ple and not around a bunch of yes­men, you can make it around any­thing. So that was the big­gest thing.”

Now Irvin gets to show what he can do on the field. Be­fore his first prac­tice with the Fal­cons on Thurs- day, Irvin wanted to show his new team­mates he can still be a force in dis­rupt­ing the quar­ter­back.

Irvin will wear jersey No. 52 when the Fal­cons (4-4) take a three-game win­ning streak to Cleve­land (2-6-1). He in­tends to help At­lanta im­prove a pass rush that ranks 27th in sacks.

“I think I bring a lot of swag­ger, a lot of at­ti­tude,” Irvin said. “I speak my mind. I talk a lot of mess. Just run­ning around hav­ing fun, man. That’s the big­gest thing in this league. If you’re not hav­ing fun, it doesn’t take you a long way. Me just bring­ing en­ergy and knowl­edge to these guys. Just be­ing the best Bruce Irvin I can be ev­ery day.”

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Irvin was a first-round draft pick for Seat­tle out of West Vir­ginia in 2012. He played four sea­sons with the Sea­hawks and two-plus with the Raiders. His 15 forced fum­bles over that span lead the NFL.

“Me and DQ can’t dwell on what we did in Seat­tle, go­ing to the Su­per Bowl and things like that,” Irvin said. “It’s more about right now and I feel like they needed me. I wanted to be here. I did what I had to do. We made it hap­pen.”

D. ROSS CAMERON AP

De­fen­sive end Bruce Irvin was cut by the Oak­land Raiders last week and ac­quired this week as a free agent by his home­town At­lanta Fal­cons, mak­ing his child­hood dream come true.

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ AP

Out­side line­backer Bruce Irvin (51), seen here at cen­ter with the Raiders in 2016, will wear No. 52 when the Fal­cons take a three-game win­ning streak to Cleve­land.

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