NC State's Irving savoring return after car wreck

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by AARON BEARD / Associated Press

WCNC.com

Posted on April 16, 2010 at 2:22 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Nate Irving remembers little about the morning he could have died.

The linebacker's last clear memory was getting on Interstate 40 to return to North Carolina State from his home in Wallace. Then came the vague recollection of swerving past a tractor-trailer. Next, he was being wheeled down a hospital hallway following a serious accident that left his SUV in a crumpled heap.

Nearly 10 months later, Irving's injuries -- most notably, a collapsed lung and a compound fracture in his left leg -- that cost him all of last season have healed. He's back at practice to savor every drill, every play, every hit.

"I just need to take everything for what it is, not take anything for granted because at any point in time it can be all over just like that," Irving said. "This practice, running out here on the field, waking up early in the morning, I wouldn't take none of that for granted."

Irving's recovery takes another step Saturday when he plays in the annual Kay Yow Spring Football Game, named by coach Tom O'Brien to honor the school's late Hall of Fame women's basketball coach. It will be the first time Irving has played in front of fans since the accident.

He has been building his body back into football shape during spring drills and is even learning a new position by moving to middle linebacker.

"He's feeling good and he's running around," O'Brien said. "He's just excited to be out there and that's exciting for us. As far as mastering the (new) position, he's got some work to do."

Irving was regarded as the Wolfpack's top defensive player entering last season after earning honorable mention all-conference honors despite missing three games as a sophomore. But his early-morning accident -- authorities said he apparently fell asleep at the wheel and hit two trees -- last June in Johnston County changed everything.

O'Brien had left the door open until early August for Irving to possibly return. But Irving soon met with reporters at Carter-Finley Stadium to say he wouldn't play, then fought back tears as he left that afternoon.

"I knew I was going to miss the whole season, but having to actually verbalize and say it, that was hard," he said.

Sitting out was even tougher, particularly as the Wolfpack's defense stumbled to the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference statistics in a bowl-less and injury-filled season. But Irving learned what he could while watching from the sidelines, giving him a fresh perspective to build on now that he's back on the field.

"He looks like his old self, which is good," senior linebacker Patrick Apple said. "He's worked hard and he's come back probably better than before. He had a lot of time to look at the game and study it, so that's definitely helped him."

Irving said he isn't quite where he would normally be at the end of spring practices and even had to cut some early workouts short as his body got accustomed to everything again. He expects to be at full speed by the time training camp starts in August.

Still, he won't forget the morning he still can't remember. In February, he got a tattoo of a cross and the date of the accident on the inside of his left forearm.

"I was almost gone," Irving said. "This is my second chance."

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