IRVIN’S LOOKING GOOD, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

OK, he admits it. He does a little strutting. In front of the mirror. Every night. No biggie.

Every night?

“Around 9 o’clock,” he says.

OK, he admits it. He throws on different outfits. Maybe shorts (“cause my legs are pretty”), maybe a tank top (“cause by body is sculpted just right”). And then, like a GQ model, he walks past his image. Does a quick turn. Looks at himself as if surprised. Ah-ah. Caught ya lookin’!

A GQ model?

“Oh my god, with this body? Yes!” he says. “Sometimes I look at those magazines and say, ‘I’m in the wrong business!’ “

OK, he admits it. He likes the way he looks. He likes the hair, the smile, the muscles, the whole package. So he struts. In his dorm room. By the mirror.

Hey, who loves ya if not yourself?

“What happens if someone walks in on you while you’re modeling?” Sedrick Irvin is asked.

“I say I’m checking to see if my clothes fit.”

Smooth.

So before you dismiss Irvin as a stuck-on-himself athlete, you have to at least give a nod to his brashness. Not everyone would admit, right off the bat, that they conduct a personal fashion show in the dorms. But then, Irvin is here, playing football for Michigan State, because of that kind of bluntness. He is here, in the cold Midwest landscape, this Miami kid who admits he never even heard of MSU when its recruiter showed up, because he knew what he wanted as a senior in high school. A place to play. Actually, a place where he could start as a freshman. He had the tools. He had the talent.

In his mind, all he needed was an opening.

So far, he has been proven correct.

“My friends said, ‘You’re crazy. Why you want to go to some school that’s not even in the Top 25, when you could go to Florida State?’ ” Irvin recalls. “But now . . .”

He laughs. “Now, they’re telling me how smart I was. How do you like that?”

A second chance

No one knows where Sedrick Irvinis going to go. Not physically. Not verbally. He’s like a new puppy, darting in a dozen directions with a tongue-wagging enthusiasm that’s endearing enough to make you forget what he did to your carpet.

Here’s Irvin darting through a hole in the line and scampering for big yardage.

And here’s Irvin saying: “I’ve been working on my dancing for when I go pro.”

Here’s Irvin scoring 16 touchdowns as a freshman.

And her’s Irvin saying, “If I were a pro wrestler, my name would be Maningo.”

Here’s Irvin showing Barry Sanders moves and Emmitt Smith bullishness, setting a freshman record with 1,067 yards rushing last season.

And here’s Irvin saying: “I see myself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with Magic, Isiah, Kareem and Jordan. We’d all be there together. Group shot.”

Oh? And what would the headline say?

“I was hoping it would say ‘Mission Accomplished’ because those guys set out to win a championship and did, and we set out to win one, too. But after we lost last week I might have to change the headline.”

To what?

He thinks for a second. “Redemption,” he says.

And that is what Saturday may all be about, when you strip away the talk, the dancing, the joking, the strutting in front of the mirror. Redemption. It was one thing to find a place to play. Now Irvin wants to win. He didn’t know how big this Michigan-Michigan State thing was when he got here, but it only took him one game to see the looks on his teammates’ faces.

“I’ll be more serious this week, no doubt. Not talking on the phone as much. Focused in practice. Then when we’re in the hotel (tonight) it’ll really hit. And on Saturday, when we make that walk from the Kellogg Center to the stadium, it’ll be a serious walk. I’ll be serious, instead of what I usually do.”

What do you usually do?

“Try and trip somebody.”

Uh-huh.

A free spirit

I don’t envy Nick Saban’s coaching Irvin. He seems to be one of those kids that requires a delicate balance. You don’t want him saying something foolish, something that will rile up the other team. But you don’t want to crush the spirit that makes him who he is. Remember that Irvin grew up on the Miami Hurricanes, whose behavior at times made the Dirty Dozen look like an Osmond reunion.

Compared to that Irvin is conservative, straight-laced, jacket and tie.

Besides, he plays like crazy. And he does things that fool you. Like the way he writes little inspirational words on his wristband before a game. In high school, when his grandparents were sick, their names were written in marker and he looked to them for inspiration.

This week, he says, the word will be “believe.”

“I know around here, you can go 0-10 and if you beat Michigan, people are happy. I know we can do it. They’re a great team, but Saturday, the country will be saying, ‘Michigan State, what can you do?’ “

The Spartans can do a lot. Especially when this kid is running the ball. And when it’s over, who knows, there could be a whale of a fashion show in front of Sedrick’s mirror.

“I guess you’ll have to win for that to happen, huh?” he is asked.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I do that regardless. I did my little mirror walk last week, too. I just walked a little slower.”

He pauses.

“I mean, I was still looking kind of nice . . .”

This kid is going places. You can just tell.

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays With Morrie” 8-9 tonight, Borders, Utica, and 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, Barnes & Noble, Grosse Pointe. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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