Texting Thoughts

This feature story is from the March 2009 issue of the Pack Pride Magazine and focuses on NC State rising junior linebacker Nate Irving. To learn more about our publication and how to subscribe, click on the link inside ...

This feature story is from the March 2009 issue of the Pack Pride Magazine. CLICK HERE to learn more about the publication!

Texting Thoughts

Want to know what Nate Irving is thinking? Send him a text message and analyze his reply.

Pack Pride Magazine
March 2009
WORDS: James Henderson
PHOTOS: Jason Cole, Jeff Reeves

hey say you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she signs their text messages.

Well, actually, that may have never been said but it certainly could be in regards to NC State linebacker Nate Irving.

Not only is Irving known by Wolfpack fans for his hard hits and physical dominance, he's known by his friends as a somewhat eccentric character. And nowhere is his uniqueness more visible than on his cell phone.

"People tell me that I'm a mean guy and people tell me I'm a silly guy," says Irving with his usual stoic expression. "I think I'm more silly. I like to take life by the reins and live every day like it's my last and have fun and not regret anything. When I first got here a couple of the players used to joke around about how mean I used to look, but when they got to know me they figured out that I was a clown and couldn't quit talking."

Or texting.

Irving admits that he is a text-a-holic and uses that form of communication as a means to keep up with those close to him, hence the unique sign-offs on his messages. "I just think of things that are a message or inspire me or I just see something I like and I put it on my phone. I love for people to ask what it means."

A year ago, Irving's sign-off was "NEMO," which obviously brought a lot of questions. "Nemo was a little fish," he says. "I looked at myself as being like Nemo – I was a little fish out in a big world. I was lost and trying to find my way."

Irving's "big world" was the town of Newark, New Jersey prior to high school. He says that the area where he lived was "a pretty bad spot" and that eventually led to the decision for him to move to North Carolina and live with his father and stepmother. Prior to moving south, he had played football on the sandlots of Newark, but never anything organized.

"I was a little fish out in a big world. I was lost and trying to find my way."

In ninth grade, Irving began to play the sport he has come to excel in and he credits that with helping him establish goals.

"My dad, stepmother, and coaches in high school really helped shape me. I realized pretty quick that I could use this football thing to get an education. When I look back, I laugh when I think of my progression. God blessed me with talent and ability, but when I first started I was just a wiry little kid running around. The coaches encouraged me to work hard in the weight room, taught me to take practice seriously and really helped me develop and mature."

Irving says he wasn't highly recruited coming out of Wallace-Rose Hill High School, which boasts around 600 students.

"It's easy to get overlooked when you're from a small place," he says. "A lot of times you have great athletes who don't get any recognition. Through the help of my coaches and parents, I was able to get some recognition and sign with NC State."

After redshirting his freshman campaign in 2006, Irving entered his sophomore season with a new head coach, position coach and attitude. He played sparingly during the first half of that year, but moved into the starting lineup in four of the last five games of the season – three of which the Wolfpack won. He came into 2008 fall camp listed as a starter and had a new outlook on his football future. He also had a new sign-off on his text messages: "BLACK TARZAN."

"Once Nemo found his way, he became ‘Black Tarzan," says Irving. "I knew my way around and I could beat my chest a little bit. I was the king of the jungle."

That humorous assessment wasn't far off. He led the Wolfpack in tackles in each of the first two games of the season and picked off passes in both of those contests as well. Despite missing almost four complete games with injuries in 2008, Irving set an NC State record for a linebacker with four interceptions and was an honorable mention All-ACC performer. He scored the team's only touchdown at Clemson, picking off the Tigers' first play from scrimmage and returning it for 33 yards and paydirt.

"If I put all my eggs in one basket, something could happen and I would be leaving school without a degree to fall back on."

In fact, Irving was so successful and dominant during his sophomore campaign that there was much speculation that he would enter the NFL draft in January. Fueling the rumors might have been the new sign-off on his text messages: "25424." This cryptic code symbolized the number of letters of each word of the phrase (written obviously in Irving-ese): "I'm botta make it hap'n."

"My family has had some struggles, but we all got together and agreed that we would all benefit more with me staying in school," he says. "If I put all my eggs in one basket, something could happen and I would be leaving school without a degree to fall back on. We talked about me first getting a degree and then possibly going pro. I will be the first person in my family to get a college degree and that is something that is very important to me... I'm looking forward to that. That's something I will carry with me the rest of my life, whether I make it in pro football or not."

Family is very important to Irving, who has six younger brothers and sisters: brothers who are 19, 8 and 3 and sisters who are 16, 13 and 8. He is closest to his eight-year-old brother Altonio, who lives in North Carolina as well.

"It's almost overwhelming sometimes when I realize the impact I can have on him," he says. "My stepmother tells me that he has already picked up on the way I carry myself on the court and on the field when he plays sports. He's so young but it shows me how much he pays attention to everything I'm doing. I never realized how much he was paying attention and being effected by such little things. It makes me happy that I have him looking up to me and that I can play an important role in his life. I could never let him or my other brothers and sisters down by doing something wrong or stupid."

As Irving and the Wolfpack begin preparation for the 2009 season with winter workouts and spring practice, he has a new tagline for his text messages: "TAKE OFF." He says that's what he and the NC State team are ready to do and they all know the hard work and dedication it will take.

"Our coaches do a great job teaching us that being a championship football team requires hard work, but it can also be fun. I can really relate to Coach O'Brien. Just like me, he's serious when he needs to be, but he likes to have fun and smile. You just have to know when to be serious and when to have fun. A lot of people don't see that side of him, but I don't think he cares. He just cares what his family thinks about him – his family at home and his family that is our team. Most people only see the mean face on the field or the red face at the interviews. They don't see the funny side with him smiling and laughing. I think I'm like that a little bit too."

"I got my high school's headhunter award, but I don't think I hit hard."

Irving has become known as the Pack's hard hitter on defense, but he shakes off that reputation. "I got my high school's headhunter award, but I don't think I hit hard," he laughs. "I'm not a rowdy, rah-rah, type of player. In between the whistles, I'm not going to let my man beat me in that battle. But outside the lines, I like to hang loose and relax and have fun. The most important thing is to have fun and you can't do that if you're uptight or too serious.

"I know guys from my high school team and this team that hit harder than me. Alan-Michael Cash has a nice little stick and Willie [Young] and a couple of linebackers probably hit harder than me."

When reminded that he's just listed about half of the defense, he smiles and says, "Yeah, but I'm more of a finesse player."

"So you are more ‘silky smooth'?" asks this writer sarcastically. "Silky smooth," ponders Irving. "Silky smooth. Yeah! I like that. That's exactly what I am: ‘Silky Smooth.'"

He immediately takes out his phone and types in his new sign-off: "SILKY SMOOTH."

Send Nate Irving a text and you just never know what you will receive back.

This feature story is from the March 2009 issue of the Pack Pride Magazine. CLICK HERE to learn more about the publication!

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