The car accident that nearly took his life last summer is still a memory, but his wounds have healed and Irving is back playing the game he loves.
NC State held its first scrimmage of spring practice last Saturday, and Irving showed that while he might not be all the way back he's still capable of making plays. He totaled eight tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack, and a forced fumble in the intrasquad scrimmage.
"Nate isn't anywhere close to where he was," said Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien. "In comparison, he's ahead of where Toney Baker was in a similar spot at this time last year. He's got a long way to go but certainly him being out there is a big help to the defense."
"It was before Saturday we had a little live team period before that," Irving said of when he returned to full contact. "It was more than I thought. I enjoyed and relished the moment and just moved on to the next play."
Irving entered spring practice not only looking to return to form, but also learn a new position as he has been moved from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker.
"Right now he's trying to learn the position," O'Brien said of Irving's position change. "It's a lot different than what he's played before and he has a lot more responsibilities so right now the thing is the mental part.
"If he does the mental things now, once he catches up physically he'll be ready to go."
"It was kind of different from what I'm used to," said Irving when asked about playing middle linebacke. "You know being in there and going full speed as opposed to practice when you get breaks in between and all that.
"Being in the live scrimmage at middle linebacker was different, but I'm enjoying it."
The position change allows NC State to get talented linebackers Dwayne Maddox and Terrell Manning on the field at weakside but also put Irving in a spot to potentially make more of an impact at middle linebacker where he's replacing two-year starter Ray Michel.
Look for the senior to be NC State's emotional leader, and the hope for the Wolfpack is his physical, attacking style will carry over to the other players on a defense that could potentially start just three seniors. While the defense might be young, that shouldn't prevent it from being physical and aggressive.
"I've wanted to get more physical as an individual, and I've wanted the team to get more physical," Irving said. "I think everyone on the team knows that and know that is what the coaches expect from us.
"Coach O'Brien has challenged us to be more physical, and I think we're beginning to answer the call."
O'Brien agrees with Irving as he indicated the Wolfpack's physicality stood out last Saturday.
"We are a tougher football team and that is a positive step to where we want to be," O'Brien said following the scrimmage. "There is a little more intensity out there than we have been accustomed to the first time around.
"Those are all positive things – there are a lot of mistakes and a lot of things we have to correct."
"That's one of the things that was a trademark of our football team at Boston College, being a strong, physical football team," he added last night. "We haven't even been close to those types of things since we've been here. I think we're finally getting the hang of it and figuring out what we have to do. We'll keep pushing and keep trying to be stronger and tougher."
Now that Irving has returned to the field and made some plays, look for him to continue developing at middle linebacker while also making sure he paces himself and allows his body to be fully healed by the time the 2010 season rolls around.
"We're trying to take care of him and not overwork him to make sure that something doesn't get hurt again," said O'Brien. "It's a question of managing properly and knowing he'll be much better in August than he will be in even a week or so."
"I know I'll be 100 percent by the time the season starts," Irving stated. "I know that much. Right now I know I still have more to do. Strength to pick up, speed, mental toughness and more to build up on. I'm not too far off."