Going Out In Style

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Nate Irving's story is different, and he knows it.

After going through a tough and trying year and a half, Nate Irving knows he's lucky to have an opportunity to play for NC State when the Wolfpack take on West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl Dec. 28.

And while Irving's comeback story has dominated the news lately, the senior linebacker from Wallace, N.C. is even more aware of what this year's bowl appearance means for NC State as a program.

"We had guys coming into their second and third years and the experience started to pay off this year. We've grown up," Irving said following practice. "It feels pretty good, especially from the season we had last year to be able to turn the program around and have a chance to go down to Orlando and play in a bowl game."

The growth of NC State's defense, and Irving, was evident all season. The Wolfpack finished the regular season ranked third nationally in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. NC State also improved on third down, allowing opponents to convert only 32 percent of the time.

Irving said the matchup with West Virginia (9-3) in the Champs Sports Bowl is the perfect opportunity to keep the positive momentum going heading into 2011.

"We feel a lot better about things, especially where we are now versus where we were a year ago," he said. "A year ago things didn't look so good but now everybody is in good spirits, we have a great football team and we get a chance to play another football game."

Just having a chance to play in a bowl game -- any bowl game -- is more than many expected from the Wolfpack in 2010. With a win against West Virginia, however, NC State would finish with nine wins for the first time since 2002 and put itself in a position for continued success in 2011 and beyond.

"The whole time I knew we had good guys and now it's starting to pay off," Irving said. "We persevered and worked hard and did what the coaches told us to do."

While NC State's rebound from a disappointing 2009 campaign has been impressive, Irving's comeback has been even more remarkable. Irving's return from a severe car accident June 28, 2009 had to go better than he, or anyone, ever expected.

After moving inside to middle linebacker in the pre-season, Irving finished 2010 with 93 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Irving was named a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, first-team All-ACC and shared the Brian Piccolo Award -- given to the ACC's most courageous player -- with Boston College's Mark Herzlich.

"It's been fun, being able to move to a different position and open up a position for someone else," he said. "It's a blessing and I can just thank God and my coaches and teammates. My coaches have put me in position to make plays and my teammates around me have supported me throughout the year and helped me."

As Irving finishes out the last two weeks of his career at NC State and prepares to take on West Virginia, he said that more than anything he's thankful to have the opportunity to compete one more time.

"For me, it's the way that you want to go out," he said. "Even though we couldn't get to the ACC Championship and win the game, to be able to have the chance to win nine games my senior year is a great accomplishment."

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