MORGANTOWN - Bruce Irvin's popularity among West Virginia football fans is strong.
As in very.
One can tell by the chants of Bruuuce when he makes a sack. And last season he made plenty. Fourteen to be precise, second nationally.
The question now: Is he as strong as his popularity?
Last season, Irvin was a sack specialist, entering the game on passing situations, mostly third downs. This season, he'll be playing most snaps as the full-time defensive end. Does he have the stamina, the strength to be as or more effective playing the length of a game and season?
Irvin, as is his character, is confident.
"You can ask people on the team," Irvin said. "[Right offensive tackle] Quinton Spain has me almost by a whole 100 pounds and we've been going at it. My strength is underrated, but when this season comes, people will see."
Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich said the 243-pound senior has a natural strength.
"It's my hair," Irvin said with a smile. "I'm telling you, it's my hair. If I'd cut my hair, I'd probably lose an inch and weight."
Irvin has dreadlocks tied in the back. Call him the Mountaineer version of Samson. Only Irvin is faster. Players, including linebacker Najee Goode, have said Irvin seems even swifter of foot than he was last season.
"I felt like it - until we got pads on," Irvin said. "Now I feel I'm slow again. But I feel I'm fast. [Strength coach] Mike Joseph and those guys did good work. They really turned it up this summer with the workouts. I feel I did get faster. I get off the ball much quicker than I did last year. Sometimes I get out of my stance before the linemen can even get back. So I feel faster and much stronger."
Irvin still seems to need upper-body work, but he claims that wasn't an off-season priority.
"They didn't ask me to do anything," he said. "Just gain a couple pounds. But I took it upon myself to want to get better, stronger, get my upper body strong and, of course, my lower body. But Coach [Bill] Kirelawich didn't ask me to do anything. He didn't want me to gain that much weight because he didn't want me to slow down."
Irvin said he's at 243 pounds, down from 247 before the start of camp.