For most it wasn't a surprise when he was left off the preseason All-ACC Team. The conference is loaded at linebacker and how Irving will play remains an unknown. Don't ask for his opinion because he is more concerned with how NC State plays than himself.
"I don't deal with the rankings," said Irving. "That's something for the rankings people to do. I just go out and play football. Personal success comes second to team success."
Over a year ago Irving was unsure about his football future. With a collapsed lung and a broken leg, he had survived after falling asleep at the wheel of his SUV while returning back to campus from his Wallace (NC) home early one morning.
"It was nasty," NC State wide receiver Owen Spencer said of the crash. "You take a huge truck and make it look like a small car. It was a blessing that he survived that crash, and that's big. Having him back is a blessing."
where I'm at."
"I think about [the accident] every day," said Irving. "About where I am and how it changed me as a person. It made me appreciate everything, even the smallest things and not take them for granted. I could have made better decisions that night.
""You never know when something is going to be taken away, you never know if you'll have a chance to do that thing again."
Now Irving is close to 100% and ready for the start of fall camp.
"I feel like I'm just about 100%," he said. "We start camp in a week and at camp I'll find out where I'm at."
Fans see the big hits and game-changing plays, but over the past three years they haven't had a chance to see it as much as they would have liked because Irving has battled injury issues.
He burst on the scene late in his redshirt freshman season, starting four of the final five games in 2007 with 27 of his 52 tackles coming in the final four games.
Irving had a breakout 2008 season, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors after totaling 84 tackles and four interceptions despite missing a third of the season with an ankle injury.
How important is Nate Irving to NC State's defense? Since his redshirt freshman season, NC State is 9-4 with Irving starting at linebacker. The Wolfpack went 7-17 in the remaining games those three seasons, which includes the 5-7 record in 2009.
"Nate has been our best defensive player since I've been here," said head coach Tom O'Brien. "We've only had him on the game field maybe 12 games. I'm estimating that, but I'm thinking of all the injuries he's had.
"For us to be a good defensive football team it would help us a lot if he can play the season. Hopefully he's poised and ready to go."
NC State lacked a proven playmaker defensively with Irving sidelined in 2009. When he's been on the field Irving has had a knack for making big plays. Whether it's a tackle for a loss or a game-changing interception, he seems to come up big when the Wolfpack defense needs him the most.
One play he fondly remembers was the interception he returned for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage at Clemson. Death Valley is one of the loudest venues in the ACC, but after that play it was silent.
"With what I did, we still lost so it didn't feel good," said Irving. "I'm looking forward to going back down there to Death Valley because last time the outcome wasn't good for us. I'm looking forward to going down there and having a different ending to the same story.
"I've only played in a select amount of stadiums in the ACC, but I think the Clemson crowd is so loud. I like to go there and hear total silence or hear the NC State chant while we're in Death Valley. I think they have some of the loudest fans so to hear them in total silence is big for me."
When Irving returned to the field this spring it was at a new position. After starring at weakside linebacker, new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta elected to move Irving inside to middle linebacker. Tenuta likes having his best linebacker play in the middle of the defense, and it enables Irving to impact the game more than by simply being in the boundary.
"You're talking 800 plays he's in the middle of the defense... being able to influence every play," said O'Brien. "That's the reason he went to the middle, and with Jon his best player has always been his middle linebacker. That's where he wants him, and he made the decision he wanted to play Nate in the middle so we agreed.
"We put him in the middle of the defense so he can make even more plays in the field. He can still make his plays in the boundary. He gets us off the field, and that's the thing he's done when he's in there. Nate helps us get off the field and get the offense the ball back."
"It's been fun," Irving said of his transition to middle linebacker. "It's something different. I've had to take on a lot more blocks than I'm used to, but it's for the team. I'm all for it."
Now Irving is putting the past behind him and help NC State win football games. He knows the expectations are there for him to make a positive impact on the defense, and he's not concerned with any letdown.
"I just want to exceed where I was in 2008," said Irving. "You don't stay the same. You either get better or get worse, and I'm trying to be better than I was.
"I don't want to come back and play any less than I did in 2008. I'm looking forward to coming back stronger than I was."
"He's a crowd-mover," said Spencer. "Everybody loves Nate. When he makes a big play everyone is flexing their muscles in the stands like he does.
"Having him back adds confidence from my standpoint. I feel as though this is my senior year, and i have a proven guy on the field. I know this guy can bring it every play, make plays, and control the defense."