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Irving's dream delayed, not denied

Posted Jan 24, 2011

FAIRHOPE, Ala. – N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving's first full day of preparation for Saturday's Senior Bowl didn't really differ from that of his fellow NFL hopefuls.

Irving started his day on Monday by getting measured every which way imaginable as NFL scouts and coaches looked on, then he practiced for the South squad in front of scouts, coaches and fans before ending his day with media obligations.

One thing, however, was decidedly different about Irving's day: It came one year later than expected – a difficult year at that.

Irving was supposed to begin the unofficial kickoff of his NFL career at a senior all-star game in 2010, but a near-fatal car accident didn't just put that on hold – it put it in serious jeopardy.

Irving, however, worked his way back from a variety of injuries to turn in a standout senior season for the Wolfpack, and this week he's out to prove to any remaining doubters that he's better than ever.

"I know it's going to be a point of interest to them, but it's not holding me back. I don't feel any pain or lingering effects or anything like that," Irving said. "I just want to show that I can play off blocks and that my speed has not been affected by the accident."

That's not to say that Irving wasn't affected in countless ways - both short term and long term - by the accident.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 2009, Irving attempted to drive approximately 90 miles from his Wallace, N.C., home back to the N.C. State campus. He never made it, falling asleep at the wheel.

"I don't remember everything," Irving said. "What I do remember was getting on Interstate 40 to Raleigh. I remember passing an 18-wheeler, and from there I just remember the hospital lights and tubes on my body."

Irving, who careened off the road and into a couple of trees, suffered a compound fracture of his left leg, a separated left shoulder, a broken rib and a punctured lung. He spent three days in the hospital, during which time he had surgery that placed a metal rod and four pins in his injured leg. The rod and one of the screws still remain.

Irving sat out the 2009 season recovering, and along the way he learned lessons that continue to help him off and on the football field.

"I matured," Irving said. "I improved my decision-making and learned to appreciate things a lot more than I did before the accident.

"I also learned from my offensive coordinator. Coach (Dana) Bible taught me how to look at offensive formations and helped me expand my paradigm."

Armed with new perspective, Irving earned All-America honors this past season, the first N.C. State player so honored since top draft pick Mario Williams in 2005.

Irving captained a defense that ranked fourth in the nation in sacks and sixth in tackles for loss. He came up with 21.5 tackles for loss himself - sixth most in the nation - and set a Football Bowl subdivision record with eight tackles for loss in one game.

"I never doubted," Irving said. "I think the accident happened for a reason. The man upstairs had something for me; if he didn't, then I would have just died in that car accident."

Irving said a day doesn't go by without him thinking about his accident, but perhaps more importantly, a day doesn't go by without him talking about his accident.
He's done a public service announcement about driving while drowsy and also has spoken at hospitals and to school groups about his ordeal.

"I felt like I needed to share my story," said Irving, who carries a photo of his mangled car on his cell phone. "Maybe it can save a life or two."