RALEIGH — How long does it take to recognize greatness?
Does it happen during your record-setting college football season? After youre identified as a cant-miss NFL prospect? In the case of N.C. State junior David Amerson, it was long before either.
When Amerson was born in Honolulu in 1991, the second son to Efland Amerson and Tawanna Taylor, the doctor who delivered Amerson swaddled the baby boy and handed him to his father.
This child will be very special, the doctor said to Efland Amerson.
Special on that, everyone in Amersons life can agree. Everyone, that is, except Amerson.
His parents, his older brother, his teammates and coaches and even third-party NFL draft evaluators recognize Amersons greatness, and not just for his 13-interception season.
Im just me, Amerson said.
Who is Amerson? Statistically, Amerson put together one of the best seasons in college football history by a cornerback in 2011.
His 13 interceptions established a school and ACC record. Only one player in Division I history, Al Worley of Washington in 1968, has had more in a single season.
Four times, Amerson intercepted two passes in a game, including touchdown returns in wins over Virginia and Louisville.
It wasnt just the volume of plays Amerson made, but also the ratio.
It seemed like every time he got a chance to make a play, he made it, senior safety Brandon Bishop said. It usually doesnt work that way in the secondary.
At 6-3 and 194 pounds, Amerson has a unique combination of physical gifts for his position. Hes taller than most corners, with a longer reach and bigger hands, but just as fast as most of the smaller ones.
His favorite defensive back is Baltimore safety Ed Reed, but his game is modeled after Philadelphia corner Nnamdi Asomugha.
Amerson has always been the quiet type, particularly off the field. He isnt prone to trash talking, which is rare for a cornerback, but he will roar after making a big play.
His dad attributes the humble, introspective personality to his birthplace. Amerson lived his first three years in Hawaii before moving with his mom to Greensboro.
Hes an island boy, Efland Amerson said.
An island boy with Jordan-esque thirst for competition and an agile mind.
You think hes not paying attention but he is, his mother, Tawanna Taylor said. He has never been very talkative, but hes observant.
His memory, and attention to detail, have helped Amerson hone his game. Natural talent, which Amerson has in abundance, only goes so far. As a freshman, Amerson didnt have an interception in nine starts.
Homework, his position coach Mike Reed told him, is how you get ahead at the loneliest, and toughest, position to play on defense.
He has learned to study receivers and it has helped him become a better player, Reed said.
To Reeds point, theres Amersons third-quarter interception of North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner in the end zone, which effectively sealed the Wolfpacks 13-0 win. As Amerson explained, the formation with the tight end lined up to the wide side of the field gave away the route. Amerson thought the end would run a corner route, and he did.
Now, Im going to run the route for him but make it look like Im beat so the quarterback will throw it, Amerson said.
Sure, enough, the replay shows UNCs Christian Wilson running a corner route and getting ahead of Amerson as they head for the end zone. Then Amerson closes the gap, jumps and beats Wilson to the underthrown ball.
It worked out for me that time, Amerson said. Ive also been beat like that.
Liberty receiver Chris Summers got Amerson on a double-move in the season-opener for a 27-yard touchdown, a play that still irks Amerson, 12 months later.
Unchanged from high school
Amerson enters this season as one of the top prospects for the next NFL draft.
Amerson will decide whether to go or stay after this season, but coach Tom OBrien expects him to make the jump.
ESPNs Scouts Inc. rates Amerson as the third-best prospect in the draft and nfldraftscout.com as the seventh-best. Both rank him as the top cornerback in the draft.
Morris Claiborne, out of LSU, was the first corner taken in the 2012 NFL draft. He went sixth overall and signed a contract worth more than $16 million.
To most 20-year-olds, this would be enough of a reason to have an inflated ego. Amerson might be the next big thing, but he doesnt act like it.
When he goes back to Greensboro, where he played basketball and football at Dudley High School, his friends see the same quiet, humble kid who left three years ago.
Honestly, hes still the same, said Major Bryant, one of Amersons best friends and former teammates. You see him on TV, and people ask me if hes ever going to change, but hes just a real humble guy.
Amerson shrugs at the draft projections and individual awards he won the Jack Tatum Award last year and was named All-American by ESPN.
As quick as you go up, you can go down, Amerson said.
Jailed brother provides lessons
Whatever Amerson lacks in ego, he makes up for in perspective.
Hell be the first to tell you hes not even the best player in his family. His older brother, Noah, played safety for two seasons in high school in Hawaii. He was faster and hit harder, Amerson said.
He was a baller, Amerson said. I was supposed to be going to his NFL games. He had the talent to be on that level.
Noah Amersons football career, and life, got derailed before he could get that far. He made the wrong choices, ran with the wrong crowd after he left high school in Hawaii and moved to Greensboro. A series of drug and gun charges sent Noah to a Guilford County prison in 2010, where he served 16 months.
I made mistakes, Noah, 26, said. Now, Im living my dreams through my brother.
The brothers have leaned on each other and drawn inspiration. Noah Amerson has a job in construction in Greensboro. His life is on the right track and he credits his younger brother with helping him stay focused and straightening out his life.
I love him, Noah said. He has been a blessing to me.
Better now, but never perfect
Theres a fuel to David Amersons fire and its not the pursuit of records or NFL fame, but the pursuit of greatness.
Its not the big plays that he has made that keep him motivated, to make sure theres an encore in 2012. Its the plays he didnt.
On the first play of his first college start in 2010, Amerson correctly predicted the pattern of a Virginia Tech receiver, but froze and didnt do anything about it.
I think about that play all the time, if I jumped the route, and I was wrong, I would have been beaten for a touchdown, Amerson said. I didnt have the confidence to take chances.
Thats the biggest difference, Im not afraid to take a risk, Amerson said.
And when he does, the results are usually special.