Nate Irving has three numbers tattooed on his left forearm. They read “06-28-09” and serve as a reminder of the automobile accident three years ago that forced him to sit out a year of football at NC State. But, Irving says, the accident helped him learn humility and patience. And that has helped prepare him for life in the NFL.
Irving was a third-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2011 draft after an All-ACC career for the Wolfpack. But Irving, a linebacker, played primarily on special teams during his rookie year. Irving knew he had to be patient to learn the pro game.
“Sitting out last year and just doing special teams helped me get adjusted to the speed and physicality of the NFL,” he says. “You’re going up against guys who are elite at their positions. You have to be very good and smart at what you’re doing.”
The Broncos hired a new defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, for this season, and his defensive scheme is conducive to Irving’s game at the middle linebacker position. Irving credits Del Rio’s system with him getting more playing time. It has also helped Irving make a greater impact on the field, like when he had three tackles during a Monday Night Football game on Oct. 15.
“I think it’s what Coach Del Rio and the coaching staff has done,” he says. “I’m able to be physical. I like playing on the line of scrimmage.”
Irving says the new system also allows him to improve on his weaknesses, like defending against the pass.
What aids in that improvement is the patience the numbers tattooed on Irving’s forearm evoke. Sitting out the 2009 year at NC State while he recovered from the accident armed him with that virtue, which, in turn, allowed him to accept studying the game for a year last season and become prepared to make an impact this season.
“I’m happy that things happened the way they did,” he says. “It taught me about NFL football. It helped me study NFL teams and what to look for.”