Photo courtesy of NC State athletics
During his time in Raleigh, linebacker Nate Irving was a fan favorite. A 3-year contributor for NC State, Irving finished his career with more than 200 tackles, 40 for loss, nine sacks and four interceptions.
During his final season with the Wolfpack in 2010, Irving was named an All-American by Sports Illustrated and Scout. Irving was not only outstanding on the field, but overcame obstacles off of it. The standout linebacker missed all of 2009 after being involved in a horrific car accident.
Irving returned as a senior and set the ACC on fire. In 2010, Irving recorded 21.5 tackles for loss, including an FBS single-game record eight in a win over Wake Forest. He added seven sacks en route to earning the Brian Piccolo Award, which annually goes to the most courageous player in the ACC.
Irving would spend five years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts. He was inducted as an ACC Football Legend in 2019.
In a 4-part series, we caught up with Irving to discuss him time in Raleigh among other things. In the first part, we talk NC State football.
Most Memorable Game
When asked about the game Irving remembered most fondly during his time at NC State, he concurred that it was a Thursday night upset of Florida State in 2010. The Seminoles were on a 5-game winning streak and were the highest ranked team in the ACC at No. 16.
Irving helped set the tone early on for the Wolfpack. On FSU’s opening drive, Irving stopped running back Ty Jones on 3rd-and-1 to force a 3-and-out.
“There’s a lot that goes into that. The coaches during the year I sat out, taught me how to look at things, taught me situational football,” Irving said. “But then I was given the freedom to make changes on the defensive line. It was a certain formation that I could check different things into and I knew what was shut down.
“They ran it to the strong side, I believe,” he continued. “I knew with the check and the call that there was nowhere to run; they were completely gapped out. There was nowhere for the running back to go. I knew every gap was taken. I just knew there was only one place for him to get to and I just slow played it and slow played it, and went and got him. But it was on the guys up front. They didn’t buckle; they held the line and got some push, and they kept me clean.”
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The Wolfpack would overcome a 21-7 deficit and go ahead for good with less than three minutes to go on a fourth down touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to tight end George Bryan. FSU marched inside the NC State 10-yard-line on its final drive, but a mishandled hand-off was botched and recovered by Irving to preserve the win. In addition to the fumble recovery, Irving finished with seven tackles and 1.5 for loss.
“FSU at night is always a fun game,” he said. “There’s something about playing FSU at night in our stadium.”
The victory, at the time, put NC State in the driver’s seat in the ACC Atlantic. The Wolfpack went into the final week of the regular season in control of their own destiny, but lost to Maryland in the regular season finale.
Still, NC State topped West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl to finish 9-4 and ranked in the final polls. It marked the first time since 2002 that the Wolfpack finished ranked.
With his decision to come to Raleigh, Irving continued a tradition of great defensive players. It was a tradition that Irving was well aware of.
“That’s originally what got me into it,” Irving said. “I used to watch Tank (Tyler), Manny (Lawson), Mario (Williams). I used to watch all those guys. And if you like football, how do you not want to be a part of that?”
Working with Dantonio Burnette
When it comes to Wolfpack defensive legends, Irving was fortunate enough to spend time with one in Raleigh. Dantonio “Thunder” Burnette played linebacker at NC State from 1999 to 2002 and was All-ACC as a senior.
“Yeah, he was the assistant strength coach,” Irving said. “I used to have one-on-ones with him and wonder why he wasn’t the coach. And as soon as I left, he’s got them boys looking like soldiers walking out on the field. Every time I talk to him, I let him know we’re gonna bump heads, boy. He’s doing a great job with the program. I really like where it’s going. I wish I could’ve been a part of what he’s doing, because it’s working, man. I’ve followed and seen how he’s transformed ’em and it’s crazy.”
Irving said he always had an admiration for the players who came before him and was happy to get the opportunity to interact with them. That was especially true of Burnette.
“Yeah, it was crazy, especially as a linebacker group,” he said. “Him, Freddie (Aughtry-Lindsay, NC State’s current nickels coach)…Pat Lowery — I know a couple other guys that like, you know, that came through there. And we always talk about those guys and certain games. And we always joke about Thunder, you know because he had, I think it was the Georgia Tech game when he just went nuts with tackles. I used to see No. 45 right there like a mini-dynamite.”