Few could've expected David Amerson would become an all-American in his first full season as a starter for North Carolina State. Now the cornerback is preparing for his junior year facing expectations for nothing less.
Amerson led the country with 13 interceptions, an Atlantic Coast Conference single-season record and tied for second-most in bowl subdivision history. He's spending the summer getting stronger and improving his footwork, knowing he'll face higher expectations as the guy likely charged with shutting down the opponent's top receiver each week.
"I won't back down from stuff like that," Amerson said. "It doesn't get me nervous. I don't feel under pressure in a negative way. I like that people have high expectations of me because I have high expectations of myself."
Amerson went from being a safety in high school to starting the last nine games at cornerback as a true freshman for N.C. State. He didn't manage to snatch an interception but more than made up for it last year, grabbing two in the opener against Liberty and following with two-interception games against Central Michigan, Virginia and Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
"He took his lumps and bumps and bruises (as a rookie) but the one thing that remained intact was his confidence," said Mike Reed, N.C. State's defensive backs coach. "It was just a matter of time when he really got to understand and grasp the defense that he was able to take advantage of it."
Amerson — who returned picks for touchdowns against the Cavaliers and Cardinals — had five more interceptions than any other player in the country and the most picks in the FBS ranks since 1968. He also broke the school's single-season interception (eight) that had stood for 73 years.
The Greensboro native won the Jack Tatum Award presented to the nation's top defensive back and earned all-America honors from multiple outlets, including as a second-team selection by The Associated Press. Yet he seems relaxed even with the increased pressure sure to follow him this year.
His mother, Tawanna Taylor, said Amerson has always focused on doing his job instead of being in the spotlight.
"The thing about David, he's always been pretty grounded," Taylor said with a laugh. "He never seemed to get overexcited about things — unlike me. He's always been pretty calm, cool and collected. If he gets all rattled up, he doesn't show it like I would."
That even-keeled approach fits well with his physical skills. He has enough speed to keep up with receivers, but his 6-foot-3 frame also takes away passing angles and narrows the window for quarterbacks to deliver the ball. He also has a gift of anticipating when to make a break on the pass.
"I try to be close enough that if the ball is in the air, it's either mine or he can't get it," Amerson said.
Amerson played on the offensive side of the ball as a kid, then skipped football while focusing on basketball his first two years of high school at Greensboro Dudley. But football coach Stephen Davis told Amerson he was athletic enough — Davis saw him dunk a basketball while wearing a pair of Timberland boots as a sophomore — to start at safety the next season and draw immediate interest from recruiters.
Amerson had 60 tackles and nine interceptions as a first-time starter in the secondary, along with about 20 scholarship offers that led him to give up basketball. As a senior, he had 55 tackles and six interceptions despite playing most of the year with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Davis said Amerson also had the right mentality for playing a position where mistakes can lead to easy touchdowns.
"If he got beat on something or messed up, he'd always come to you and tell you, 'Coach, that won't happen again,'" Davis said. "He understands he's going to mess up, but his process of learning what he did wrong is probably second to none."
Reed saw that during Amerson's first year in Raleigh. In the third game against Cincinnati, Amerson jumped a short route and gave up a deep pass in a nationally televised Thursday night game.
The Wolfpack won, but the play bothered Amerson so much that he sent a late-night text message to his position coach to apologize for the mistake and say it wouldn't happen again.
Now Amerson's penchant for pickoffs might deter quarterbacks from throwing his way in 2012.
"What I keep telling him is you've got to always prepare," Reed said. "When you fall asleep and someone takes advantage of you, people will say, 'Blood's in the water.' The sharks are out, so he feels like he's constantly got to prove himself to people."
That's OK for Amerson.
"That's definitely something that motivates me," he said. "I mean, I like challenges and I like being under pressure. ... I just have confidence in myself."