Blair Irvin was a highly decorated recruit on the football field. Most could only dream of the scholarship offers he received.
He committed to play football at Louisiana State in 2002. During his senior year of high school, he wanted something to help him stay in shape.
He never had played baseball at the high school level. But one day during his senior year, he picked up a bat and glove and decided to give it a shot. It turns out he was pretty good.
He was so good that Major League Baseball scouts started making their way down to Louisiana one-by-one to see him play.
Irvin had a decision to make. His decision was one that would send him down a long, winding path — a path that eventually led to K-State.
Baseball takes over
Irvin grew up in Louisiana. He attended the Nike combine held at LSU in 2002. Nobody was faster than him, and he turned heads on the recruiting trail.
He received offers from every school in the Southeastern Conference to play football, arguably the most talented conference in the country.
He chose to stay in state and commit to the Tigers. At the time, coach Nick Saban, who is widely regarded for his ability to evaluate cornerbacks, said Irvin had the second most fluid hips of any corner he had ever seen at the high-school level.
But Irvin wanted something to keep him occupied during his offseason from football. He turned to baseball.
He hit .500 in his only year of playing baseball in high school. He was a speed merchant on the base paths.
“I had an unbelievable amount of stolen bases,” he said. “I was stealing home plate a lot in high school. I had a pretty good arm in the outfield. I had all of the tools it took to be a good baseball player.”
Those tools helped him unlock a path that could have potentially given his family financial security. He was drafted in the 12th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft in 2002 by the Tampa Bay Rays after only one season of organized baseball.
He had a difficult decision to make. He opted for baseball.
“It was really hard,” Irvin said. “At that time, as far as financially for me and my family, the baseball thing really helped us. Coach Saban and I sat down and I talked to him and he told me it was my decision and he stuck by me. I always knew that I could come back to play football sooner or later.”
Irvin spent four years in the Rays’ minor league organization. He played a fast center field, but could never get the bat going. His career batting average was .229.
However, he always had something else floating around his mind. “When I was playing baseball, I was always thinking about playing football,” he said.
Back to football
Soon enough, Irvin chose to head back to his first love — football. He didn’t have the grades to go to a Division-I school immediately, so he chose to attend Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
He spent two seasons there while shaking off the rust from the baseball diamond.
“When I first came back to junior college my ankles and legs were killing me because I wasn’t used to wearing all of that gear again,” Irvin said. “It was a struggle, but I knew what I was getting into when I came back.”
Irvin committed early in his junior-college career to Auburn — a little too early, he admits. His parents decided it would be best if he visited other schools. He opened his recruitment back up.
He visited K-State and said he enjoyed his visit.
He then visited West Virginia for a late-season game against Pittsburgh, one that could have put them in the national championship game. Irvin liked what he saw and committed to coach Rich Rodriguez and the Mountaineers.
But one day after committing, another bend in the road formed.
“A day after I got off of the plane to come home I find out on the news that Coach Rodriguez left to go to Michigan,” Irvin said. “I had just made this big change to go from Auburn to West Virginia and it was a little overwhelming.”
Rodriguez offered him the opportunity to join him in Michigan, but Irvin declined.
He decided K-State would be the best option for him, in large part due to family proximity. While at Coffeyville, Irvin met his future wife, Amy, who is from Joplin, Mo.
“K-State was really close to her family and that was best for me and my family.”
A unique perspective
At 25 years old, Irvin doesn’t have the life or luxuries of most college students. He and his wife had their first son, Blair III, in June 2007.
Irvin said he wishes he had more time to spend with his son.
“It’s hard going to class and then coming home for the five minutes that you have and he’s waiting at the door,” Irvin said. “Then you have to leave so you’re not late for class. It takes a toll on us being together.”
Irvin has a different perspective in life than many college students.
“The little things that a college student would do in their extra free time I don’t do,” he said. “I like to spend time with (my son) as much as I can. As long as I can see him smile every time I come through the door, I know that he’s OK.”
Irvin said living on a tight budget is one of his most difficult challenges.
“You have to go through that,” he said. “Hopefully one day we will be blessed where we don’t have to worry about it as much, but right now I am in a situation where I have to do my schoolwork and I have to perform on the field. I don’t get special treatment on the team just because I am married and everything.”
The Tampa Bay Rays clinched the American League East title and will be in the playoffs, which are already underway. But Irvin doesn’t have any regrets over leaving his former organization.
“I liked baseball, but I didn’t love it as much as football,” he said. “I am excited for the guys in the Rays organization, because a lot of those guys I met in spring training and they are pretty cool. Maybe I would have been up there with them but then again maybe not. You never know.”
Irvin also doesn’t regret spending four years of his life playing baseball in the minor leagues. It’s something he said has helped him become a more responsible person.
“Baseball helped me a lot,” he said. “Going to play baseball in the minor leagues taught me how to be a better man and be more responsible. Those are the things that I didn’t have coming out of high school. I really enjoyed it; it was a big learning experience.”
A second chance at his dream
Irvin got a second chance to follow his dreams on the football field and said he likes where he is at now.
“I love coach [Ron] Prince and the coaching staff here,” he said. “I just wanted an opportunity, and K-State was a real good opportunity for me.”
Prince said Irvin’s journey through life has had a positive effect on him as a player and person.
“I think he’s one of the more interesting stories in college football,” Prince said. “His travels have really helped him understand life.”
Now, Irvin will be facing a different sort of challenge that he hasn’t seen in life. He will be asked to help the Wildcat defense shut down the No. 1 passing attack in the nation Saturday against Texas Tech.
Will he be ready for the challenge? With everything he has been through in life, it would be hard to doubt him.