This week’s guest picker is Nate Irving, an All-American in 2010 at NC State and went on to a five-year NFL career with the Broncos and Colts. We talked with Irving about this year’s Wolfpack, the impact of strength coach Dantonio Burnette, and his pick for the game against Clemson.
Q. NC State hasn’t gotten a ton of big wins yet, but they are winning more consistently now. Where do you think this program is?
A. I feel like [Dave] Doeren has gotten his guys in, a recruiting class has come through there, and [Dantonio Burnette] — we call him Thunder — he’s working wonders in the weight room. It’s paying off. It’s bringing more success for the guys on the field, and the more success there is, the more people want to come join us. I think with Doeren, he’s been able to stick around, get his guys in, coach them up and that’s starting to pay dividends.
Q. What would a win over Clemson mean for NC State?
A. Against this team, it’s very big. The last couple games, it’s been close. Being ranked, going against another ranked opponent — it’s a good test. And it’s a rivalry, whether they want to say so or not. Textile Bowl. It’s going to be a great game.
Q. What do you think of how the defense has performed after losing so many big names?
A. I think they’re playing good. It’s opportunities for guys to make a name for themselves after a lot of guys left. Germaine Pratt, I’ve been really impressed with what he’s been doing. We’re inexperienced, but the games we’ve played, it’s been experience. But this game will be what tells us where we are and where we need to be.
Q. When you talk about coaches being given time, to me that’s about building a sustainable culture that lasts beyond one class of great players. Is that sort of what we’re seeing happen at NC State?
A. Today’s age, we want results instantly, but every coach isn’t striking gold with every player they recruit. Things happen, injuries happen, life happens. There are things you can’t account for. Stuff you have to adjust to. It takes time. If you could just walk into a place and get the No. 1 class every year, everyone stays, everyone’s healthy — that’s one thing. But things happen. Football happens.
Q. You mentioned Coach Burnette. He seems to be at the center of so much of the Wolfpack’s success. What do you think of the job he’s done?
A. Man, I’ll send Thunder a message every now and then just to give him a hard time because when I was there, and the difference now, it’s night and day. As a former player, you’re like, damn, I wish we could’ve been a part of this. What he’s doing is great. And it’s strength and nutrition. They have a great nutrition staff. And the weight program is about lifting and power and explosion and the things that relate to football. When I was there, it was more about stretching and getting flexible. That’s good. But at the end of the day, you have to do things that relate to football.
Q. And as a guy who’s played football and had so much success, he’s not just coaching guys about how to get in shape, but like you say, it’s specific to what they’re trying to do.
A. And players notice that. He’s a guy who’s been through it and can tell you what you need to do to get there, players listen to that. But I also think he’s great at relating to the players. A lot of times, you’ll get guys from all over the place, and that’s his home. He’s home. That stands out. Guys are like, ‘He’s from here, he lives here, he went to school here, he’s part of this program. And he came back here.’
Q. OK, so I’m assuming you’re picking NC State. What’s the key for them to pull off the upset?
A. We have to do a good job in the secondary, but the defense has to play big. They run the ball really well, and if they get to running the ball on us, we can be in trouble. But if we can get off on third down, create a couple turnovers, we’ll be OK.