RALEIGH — Despite the stakes and the invasive nature of the NFL draft process, N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving said he had fun Wednesday at the Wolfpack's pro day.
Irving sprinted, jumped and bench pressed with 22 other hopefuls at N.C. State's practice facility. The difference for Irving was he actually enjoyed it.
"Football is just fun," Irving said. "You can't go out there and play uptight or practice uptight. You just have to go out there and have fun."
Fun's usually not the first word used to describe football scouts, their stopwatches and their probing questions, which tend to veer into the inane. (Would you rather be a cat or a dog?) Dozens of talent evaluators were on hand Wednesday, mainly for Irving and receiver Owen Spencer, but Irving brings his own perspective to the process.
After a one-car accident in June 2009 almost cost him his life, Irving has a better appreciation for the game. That's how he approached an eventful 2010 season, which concluded with nine wins and a top 25 ranking for the Wolfpack, and it's how he has prepped for the draft.
"I think about [the accident] every day," said Irving, an All-ACC pick in 2010 who led the Pack in tackles and sacks. "It's just a blessing from where I've come from. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more things ahead of me."
From the Senior Bowl to the league combine to Wednesday's four-hour workout, it has been a hectic three months for Irving.
He prepared for the combine, which was at the end of February in Indianapolis, at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas.
He added about 10 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame. He weighed in at 242 pounds on Wednesday, which made his 40 time (4.65 seconds) and vertical jump (33 inches) all the more impressive.
An All-ACC linebacker and the Wolfpack's leading tackler last season, Irving is projected to be a mid-round pick, with a fourth-round grade from nfldraftscout.com.
N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien spoke to several of the league personnel in attendance Wednesday, and he raved about Irving's maturity, as a leader, since missing the 2009 season while recovering from the injuries sustained in the accident.
"He has really grown up in a year," O'Brien said. "When you sit in his hospital room in the summer of 2009 and you're thinking he won't walk again, it's especially gratifying. He has a bright future ahead of him."
Spencer, who led the Wolfpack with 60 catches for 912 yards, was the only other N.C. State player to attend the league combine with Irving. His draft odds are longer than Irving's, and he's projected as an undrafted free agent by nfldraftscout.com.
Spencer ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash on Wednesday and felt like he had a good showing.
"Everything is looking positive," Spencer said. "The negative things will come, you just have to hope that your product is where it's supposed to be."
Spencer's reaction to the exhaustive process was more in line with the norm than Irving's.
"I'm happy about the whole day, but I'm glad this process is over," Spencer said.
Note: N.C. State honored Irving and Russell Wilson, the stars of last year's team, one more time. Wilson was named the team's most valuable player and most valuable offensive back and earned the captain's award during the team's annual awards dinner Tuesday night.
Wilson, who is with baseball's Colorado Rockies at spring training in Arizona, did not attend the event. He is not participating in spring practice and is not expected to rejoin the team in the fall, but he has a season of eligibility left.
Irving completed his college career with the team award for most valuable linebacker, the captain's award and the Ken McNeill Iron Wolf award for the greatest comeback from injury.
Other award winners included defensive end David Akinniyi, for sportsmanship and integrity and the team's best grade-point average.
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