In 2011, cornerback David Amerson fashioned a dream season at N.C. State, capping it with a remarkable interception return for a touchdown in the Wolfpack's victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium.
Amerson finished the year with 13 interceptions, the most in major college football since 1951 and one shy of the all-time record. It was the kind of season that typically guarantees a statistical drop-off the next season because future opponents simply won't throw the ball in your direction.
Amerson's numbers did drop in 2012, all the way down to five interceptions, but it wasn't because opposing teams steered clear of him. Instead, they went right at him.
"I was just playing to get interceptions, trying to match the 13," Amerson said. "I started getting out of character, not letting the game come to me and just not being myself."
Now Amerson, who decided to forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, is out to prove that he's more the player that won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2011 than he is the player that was fortunate to make second-team All-ACC in 2012.
"Hopefully they see my good plays outweigh my bad," Amerson said. "They'll just have to go back to the film. I can't change anything."
Amerson surely wishes he could change what happened in last year's season opener against Tennessee, when Volunteers wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson beat him for a 41-yard touchdown and then receiver Zach Rogers got behind him for a 72-yard score – all in the first quarter.
He'd also like to forget a midseason loss against Miami, when Phillip Dorsett came from the other side of the field and scored on a 62-yard pass that just eluded Amerson for a stunning last-second victory.
Amerson said that N.C. State defensive backs coach Mike Reed – who now holds the same role at Clemson – encouraged him to return to playing fundamentally sound football after the season opener. Amerson did pick off a pass in each of the next three games, but they came against mostly overmatched competition. He then had his issues against Miami, after which he played better football.
"They were just telling me get back to the fundamentals, to stop looking at the quarterback, play your man and just the basic things that I wasn't doing," Amerson said. "I think it really sunk in after a while, and it really helped me out a lot."
Regardless of the up-and-down nature of his play the last two seasons, Amerson possesses some qualities that can't be taught. The 6-1, 205-pounder has one of the best combinations of size and speed (4.35) in the draft class, and he has exceptionally large hands.
"It allows me to get my fingers on the ball sometimes when I'm not supposed to," Amerson said. "When you have receivers like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, big, tall freaks of nature, you definitely need someone to match up against them."
At his best, Amerson has shown that he can match up with the best, but at his worst, he's proven no match. While that's a reality faced by even elite NFL corners on a play-to-play basis, it's up to teams to now decide if Amerson has what it takes to take on the challenge.
"I see myself as a playmaker," Amerson said. "All I can do is just go out and perform to the best of my ability and show them what I can do as far as me being an athlete, then just see how it plays out. Whatever happens, happens."