Coming into this season, Nate Irving was a 2011 third-round pick who just hadn’t had a legitimate opportunity at linebacker with the Denver Broncos. The potential was certainly there and Irving had shown the ability develop and grow, tying the team lead with 10 tackles on special teams in 2012.
To the casual fan, Irving was just another player trying to earn a starting spot on Jack Del Rio’s Bronco defense. To those who know the linebacker and watched his college career at North Carolina State, Irving was a player who fought back from tragedy to reach the ultimate dream of the NFL.
On June 28, 2009 while he was a junior at N.C. State, Irving was driving from his parent’s house in Wallace, N.C. to Raleigh, when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his sport utility vehicle. The car careened off the road, struck two trees and settled in a ditch where he was not discovered for 90 minutes.
Irving’s accident left him with a collapsed lung, broken leg and injured shoulder. In May of 2013, he told Jeff Legwold, formally with the Denver Post, “I think about that accident every day. When I first woke up from surgery, the first thing I asked was, ‘Can I play football again?’ And the doctors just said ‘Don’t worry about that’.
“Well, to me that meant it was over. To say don’t worry about it meant to me they didn’t want to tell me football was over, that they wanted to wait until later to tell me.”
He sat out the 2009 season and was only able to stand on the sideline with his fellow teammates for the final two games of the season, slowly rehabbing and working his way back to football shape.
Irving is now on the precipice of playing in Super Bowl XLVIII, as the starting strongside linebacker for the Denver Broncos. He has done a stand up job filling in for the injured Von Miller and fits the mold of what Denver seeks out and expects of their draft picks. A guy who puts solid work in, learns the system and grows to earn a starting spot on the roster.
This season, Irving had 41 total tackles and has stepped up in a defense that has had its share of injuries and off-field incidents, exemplifying the concept of the next man up. “We say it all along, it’s next man up,” Broncos Head Coach John Fox has said. “Any time Von has been out, for those first six games and the last couple, I think he’s stepped in and done a really good job. I think he’s done it earlier in his career, so he’s stepped up every time we’ve called on him. It’s a good thing and it’s a tribute to how hard the guy works and prepares.”
On the opposite side of the field on Super Bowl Sunday, Irving will face his former N.C State teammate Russell Wilson, who played football and baseball for the Wolfpack for three years before transferring to Wisconsin.
For both, we can assume this is a lifelong dream turned reality, to be awarded the opportunity to play in the most important game of their short careers, on the biggest stage there possibly is in the NFL.