Nate Irving is a player who has been through a lot and had to overcome much to be where he is today. Overcoming this adversity has made Irving not only a better player but a better person, this is his story.
Nathaniel Irving was born July 12, 1988 to Jerome Irving, a truck driver, and his mother, his father since remarried to Irving’s step mom Francis Corbett, a kindergarten teacher. Irving is one of six siblings. His hometown is Wallace in North Carolina which he moved to from New Jersey with his father.
Nate Irving, ILB, North Carolina State
Height: 6-1. Weight: 242.
Hand Size: 10 ¼ in.
Projected 40 Time: 4.82.
Combine 40 Time: DNP.
Bench: N/A Vertical: N/A Arm: 33 1/4.
Projected Round (2011): 3-4.
Date of birth: July 12, 1988 (age 22)
After moving to Wallace, Irving attended Wallace-Rose Hill High School in Teachey, North Carolina. He led Wallace-Rose Hill, under Coach Jack Holley, to a 10-0 start to the season as a senior. He tallied 110 tackles, six forced fumbles, three sacks and one interception in his senior year. Chipped in 12 all-purpose touchdowns also, this led to All-conference selection and a North Carolina Shrine Bowl selection. At high school he majored in zoology. Regarded as only a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, he was not listed among the top prospects of the class of 2006. But if you had talked to coaches at Wallace-Rose Hill High School they would have painted a much different picture.
There are football stories starring Nate Irving that have become legend around Wallace-Rose Hill. Stories around the many big plays he made – the forced fumbles, drive-killing interceptions, head-jarring hits. Anyone who saw him roam the field in Bulldogs black-and-orange had to feel sympathy for those poor souls carrying the ball for the opposing team.
Still, there is one play in which the telling is accompanied by a chuckle.
Irving was a freshman playing for the Wallace-Rose Hill junior varsity. Playing at tight end, he caught a pass and crossed the goal line. Then he spiked the ball and maybe even began to dance. After all, his first touchdown seemed something worth celebrating.
Only, yellow flags flew. Unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty.
As Irving returned to the sideline, the Bulldogs' coaches were laughing too hard to be mad. They explained to Irving, who had just moved to Wallace from New Jersey and was playing his first organized football game, that the end zone theatrics he'd seen while watching TV on Sundays were not permissible on the high school field.
Irving smiles when he hears the story. He doesn't remember a similar penalty since.
Jack Holley coached Irving at Wallace-Rose Hill, puts him at the top of the linebackers he's had in 49 years on the high school sidelines. Never one to give compliments lightly, Holley calls Irving an even better person.
Holley always taped his players' ankles in the locker room before they left for road games. After getting taped, Irving would sit in a corner by himself. The Bulldogs' assistant coaches would wait outside.
“His eyes would start watering,” said Holley. “I'd come out and the other coaches would ask, ‘Is he crying yet?' Once he started they'd say, ‘Alright, it's time to load the bus.' You knew somebody was going to get hit that night.”
Tim Jenkins came to Wallace-Rose Hill to coach the defense prior to Irving's sophomore year. He remembers his initial meeting with his future star, “Coach Holley took me over there to meet him and said, ‘He's going to look like the sorriest piece of crap, going to have dreads and be dragging a little bit. But he'll look you in the eye and he'll say yes sir.' And he stuck that big bear paw out there and Nate and I have always had a good relationship.”
At the beginning of Irving's junior year, Jenkins suggested moving from defensive end to linebacker. Keeping Irving on one side of the field probably cut down on his tackles, but it also meant the Bulldogs could force opponents to become “one-handed,” run 75 percent of their plays to the side opposite Irving.
“The big thing was his instincts,” Jenkins said. “He worked real hard at taking on blocks, finding the ball and getting off of people.”
He was the classic gym rat as a teenager at Wallace-Rose Hill High School.
Irving also stood out with his study habits. Every Sunday during the season, after church, Irving would ask Corbett for the car keys so he could drive to the Bulldogs' weight room and pick up a videotape of the upcoming opponent. Irving would return home, plop himself down on the carpet in the living room and spend all day studying the tape. Corbett recalls him sitting in the living room for hours, pausing, fast-forwarding and rewinding, looking for specific details that could help him read the plays.
“He could diagnose the film,” Jenkins said. “It was like he already knew.”
After finishing high school, Irving decided to attend North Carolina University and become a member of the Wolfpack.
In 2006 his first season with the University he redshirted the season at linebacker.
The following year, 2007, he finished the season as one of the Wolfpack's top performers on defense. There were some interesting points to Irving’s 2007 campaign. He moved into the starting lineup in the win over Virginia and started four of the last five contests - he was sick prior to the Wake Forest game and did not start. 27 of his 52 tackles were made in the last four games of the season. He made five tackles for loss in those last five games. Tallied a total of 155 special teams plays over the season. He posted a season-high 10 tackles in the overtime win at Miami. He led the team with two forced fumbles, one versus Virginia and one versus Wake Forest.
In 2008 he received an honorable mention All-ACC performer for 2008, he would have battled for first-team honors if he hadn't missed a third of the season with an injury. First team would've been certain had he played more and then his name began appearing in the early rounds of NFL mock drafts. He managed to put together a very successful year. He averaged 8.7 tackles per game in 12 career starts. He tied for third on the team with 84 tackles despite the games missed. He led the team with four interceptions - highest total ever by a Wolfpack linebacker. He was forced to sit out the majority of the second half against East Carolina after sustaining a lower leg injury in the second quarter and then missed the next two games. He reinjured the ankle after playing just 16 snaps versus Florida State and then was out until the Duke game. Came back for the win over the Blue Devils, playing 82 snaps, tallying 10 tackles and causing a fumble. He followed that with an 11-tackle performance in the win over Wake Forest - including two tackles for loss and an eight-yard sack. Earned the Most Valuable Linebacker Award at the annual team banquet. A 2009 preseason All-ACC choice by Phil Steele's College Football Preview and a second-team choice by Athlon Sports.
Then it happened. The car crash.
Francis Corbett said her husband, Jerome Irving, is a jokester. She thought he was playing around when he woke her on the morning of Sunday, June 28, 2009, and told her something was wrong with Nate. She knew her husband was serious as soon as she heard the message Wake Medical Center personnel had left on his phone, asking them to come immediately to the hospital.
Nate had left their house late to drive back to Raleigh. At 4:40 a.m., he fell asleep at the wheel near exit 314 on Interstate 40, roughly 20 miles from the N.C. State campus. The sport utility vehicle he was driving ran off the road and struck two trees and flipped at least once, according to the highway patrol's report.
It was at least 90 minutes before Irving was discovered and then rushed to a hospital.
Irving woke up in a Raleigh hospital with a separated shoulder, a collapsed lung, cracked ribs and a compound fracture in his left leg. He was lucky to be alive and his football future was in serious doubt.
When his dad and step mom arrived in his hospital room, he'd already had surgery to repair the severely fractured left leg, been diagnosed with the separated left shoulder, a cracked rib and punctured lung on his left side.
When he saw his family, he told them he loved them. And that he was sorry he'd wrecked the truck.
Yet he was alive, and three days later he was walking. Within a week, he was back home with his family.
In the next couple of weeks, his teammates visited daily. Corbett said the support from the university and the football program played a key role in his recovery.
Once he was discharged, the family living room became Nate's hospital room. He refused to just lie there. He used therapeutic bands to rebuild his strength, made himself walk to the bathroom and rarely used his crutches. Corbett was compassionate but firm, telling him the bed could be his platform or it could be his grave.
With a tall mountain to climb, Irving never quit. He told reporters in August that he felt `blessed' to be alive after the accident. He then began lifting with the team that winter and running with the Sports Medicine staff and was cleared prior to spring practice. He fought his way through a gruelling rehab process for 8 months and by March of 2010 he was ready to get back on the field.
His injuries healed more quickly than his psyche though. He struggled with an overwhelming sense of guilt for what he put his family and his teammates through.
"It was an accident," he said, "but I felt like the decision-making on my part could have been so much better. I could have left earlier or stayed the night and left in the morning. I felt like that was kind of selfish on my part."
Irving returned to school in the fall of 2009 but his injuries did cost him the season of that year. North Carolina State coaches welcomed Irving into practices and onto the sideline as a player-coach. Yet no amount of cheering allowed Irving to shake the feeling that he had let his teammates down. He watched his teammates play, well as much as he could stand that year, as opposing offenses riddled the Wolfpack defense for 31 points per game, 11th in the ACC. In close games, Irving could hardly stand to watch. After the Wolfpack's 2009 rivalry game against North Carolina, he broke down in tears in the front seat of his stepmother's car.
"I couldn't tackle anybody. I couldn't do anything," Irving told her through his tears.
She tried to convince him that his mere presence made a difference. He didn't yet see what she saw: He was becoming a better person.
"In that off season, he learned how to be an off-the-field leader," Frances Corbett said. "Denver did not get just a good football player. They've gotten a person who knows how to overcome adversity."
The accident made him realize what his life would be like without football.
"It was terrible," Irving said.
“My family, they were the main people that helped me get back in good spirits and not just hang my head and feel sorry for myself,” Irving said, “They helped me get back up and work even harder than I did before.”
Most people would try to forget the worst, most painful day of their lives. Not Nate Irving. He tattooed a reminder on his left forearm — a large shape of a cross.
"I felt like God had better plans for me than to sit in that ditch and die," said Irving, 22. "I am embracing every chance I can get to live life and enjoy this opportunity the best that I can."
Return to College
When he returned to practice in the spring of 2010, N.C. State coaches decided to move him to middle linebacker.
His new position coach, Jon Tenuta, refuses to compare Irving to the player he might have been prior to the accident. But he's been impressed by what he's seen from one of the Wolfpack's tri-captains.
“He's an excellent young man, an intelligent guy.” Tenuta said. “The middle linebacker runs the defense. He'd better be strong up the middle. He calls the defense, the audibles or whatever we have to do. His teammates know he's going to make plays.”
Irving felt this new position came naturally to him, though he jokes that he's always seen himself as an offensive player, a wide receiver or tight end. Occasionally, he'll mention to running backs coach Jason Swepson or head coach Tom O'Brien that he's available as a short yardage back or to lead block in goal line situations. They usually respond with a chuckle.
Walking to the practice field or in the weight room, he'll still belt out a song, something he's done since high school, maybe Ain't No Mountain High Enough or a Kirk Franklin tune – “just something strange to keep us in good spirits.”
He doesn't grow tired of talking about his accident; there are photos of the vehicle on his phone as a daily reminder. It's part of his story now.
“I'm just going to go play,” he said. “I don't feel like I have anything to prove to anybody, just go play football and have fun doing it.”
The Wendell H. Murphy Center adjacent to Carter-Finley Stadium is the home for the N.C. State football team. A sea of red, everything from whirlpools to a wolf sculpture can be found in and around the 103,000 square-foot building, the largest in the nation dedicated solely to football. Nate Irving’s return game was the season opener against Western Carolina. Irving and his Wolfpack teammates would emerge from a tunnel on its ground floor to take the field.
Standing nearby would be Irving's family, blessed and grateful to witness the star linebacker's return in an interrupted college career.
As the wolf howls and the fans roar, Irving's step mom, Francis Corbett, will be watching a living miracle again play the game he loves. The discipline and love she and her husband instilled in Irving provided the cornerstone for his comeback from a devastating car accident. His determination took care of the rest.
“The Murphy Center concrete is really strong,” Corbett said. “But I hope it's able to hold me.”
It took Irving a while to get his legs back, but by the 4th game of the season (at Georgia Tech) he was officially back. He ended that game with a career-high 16 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and 2 Sacks. With that performance he was named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
His resilience is inspiring. He is a true physical presence and he has the ability to play multiple LB spots in the NFL. He is a punishing hitter that plays much bigger than his listed weight. His short area quickness and agility allow him to be an absolute force at the LOS. He not only can stack and shed in the hole, but he can also run around you. He plays the game with an attitude and his aggressive demeanor comes through with every hit that he makes. His incredible instincts allow him to dissect plays quickly which makes him even that much more dangerous.
Nate Irving won the Brian Piccolo Award (along with Boston College's Mark Herzlich) from the ACC, an honor given to the most courageous player in the league. But he's more than just a good comeback story. He led the team with 93 total tackles and ranked fourth nationally with 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
A first-team All-ACC performer, second-team Walter Camp All-American and a semifinalist for the 2010 Butkus Award, Irving's 21.5 tackles for loss for the season tied for fourth in Wolfpack history, while his career mark of 39.5 ranks seventh.
He finished his college career with the following stats:
Leading up to the Draft
Wolfpack fans have idolized Irving for years now, but more than just the people in Raleigh have their eye on him now. Last season the All-ACC standout gave the nation a reason to remember his sophomore season, after sitting out the entirety of his junior campaign due to the tragic car accident. As a senior Irving led the nation's college linebackers with 21.5 tackles for loss, led NC State with 7 sacks, and accumulated 93 tackles. Since the end of the season, Nate had added 10 pounds to his athletic frame, weighing in at about 240 pounds. He also ran a 4.65 40-yard dash and also posted 27 repetitions of 225-pounds on the bench press.
After choosing not to work out at the Scouting Combine, Nate Irving was the center of attention at North Carolina State’s pro day on Wednesday. On the field, Irving’s production speaks for itself. He weighed in at 242 pounds and ran well for his size, which will garner attention. Linebacker coaches from Baltimore, Carolina and Tampa Bay were on hand to watch Irving. Irving ran 4.76 and 4.79 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, had a 32 1/2-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-11 broad jump, a 4.25-second short shuttle, a 6.98 3-cone drill and did 27 reps in the bench press. ‘Irving’s workout went well, and I see him as a third- to fourth-round pick.’ - Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Irving is a fast linebacker that makes plays all over the field. Well prepared player that reads keys quickly and has a nose for the football in run support. Drops smoothly in coverage, has terrific ball skills and the closing burst to get after the quarterback on blitzes. Vocal leader and fierce competitor.
- Physicality, Short area quickness and agility, Plays the game with a mean-streak, Awesome instincts
- Terrible injury history, Average speed
This is my view on Irving that was in the Linebacker Prospect post: Put on size after his accident and played well afterwards. He had a good year, hits hard, not the fastest but makes up with it reading plays quickly. Possible late round prospect that could be drafted to try out for ILB. Irving reminds me a lot of Mays in the way he hits. I think he is a better version of Mays with more upside.
I think this is a correct assessment. He brings the wood, has coverage skills that Mays doesn’t and can read plays quickly. He will be a better player than Mays and I think can start quickly. I look forward to seeing him in Orange and Blue.
With the 3rd pick in the 3rd round (67) of the draft of 2011 the Denver Broncos selected LB Nate Irving.
The Broncos, in fact, liked Irving so much they had him rated as the No. 1 inside linebacker on their draft board. When training camp opens, Irving will be competing against Joe Mays for the starting job at middle linebacker.
General manager Brian Xanders said the Broncos had no concerns about the lasting effects of Irving's injuries from the accident. Irving has a metal rod in his leg, but team doctors categorized Irving as "low risk" after putting him through a battery of medical tests.
"You could just tell he loved football," Xanders said. "(The accident) was a wake-up call for him. He lost that year, and it really helped him mature and grow up as a football player."
The Broncos flew Irving to Denver on Saturday for his formal introduction at Dove Valley team headquarters. Irving toured the facility in search of Broncos gear he could take back to North Carolina. He received a gray Broncos polo shirt and an orange hat, and said he can't wait to return to practice with his teammates as soon as the NFL lockout is lifted.
As Irving prepares to start his NFL career, the memories of June 28, 2009, won't be far away. And if he ever starts to forget, all he has to do is look at the photo of his mangled SUV that he keeps on his cellphone, or look at the large tattoo.
"I noticed that within a snap of a finger it can all be taken away. I want to go out and play every play as hard as I can, every practice as hard as I can, be at every meeting and do every workout," Irving said. "Just to be out there and take full advantage of it and appreciate the game for what it is really worth."
The future of Irving looks bright and I look forward to watching him play. He played in jersey number 56 in college and I hope he can get that at the Broncos. It would mean Ayers would have to give up the number but I think Ayers should take a traditional defensive lineman number, something in the 90s, Ayers played in 91 in college. Either way I wish Irving good luck and a long career as a Denver Bronco. ~ Aussie.
Ref:Scouting Report, Wiki, LB Prospects, Go Pack, ESPN, Star News, DenverPost