Wolfpack fans got their first look at former Colorado transfer Forrest West this April in the annual Kay Yow Spring Game and the 6-foot-2, 270 pound defensive end didn't disappoint as he finished the contest as one of the team's most active defenders.
Despite a crowded depth chart at defensive end, West continued his strong offseason performance in preseason camp and earned a role in the rotation during NC State's season opener against Tennessee on Friday. He finished with 31 plays and one quarterback pressure against a stout offensive line of the Volunteers. More importantly, he got to taste live action once again and knock off the rust built up because the redshirt junior had to sit out last fall due to NCAA rules.
"It was exciting," he said of his return. "It was a big game, the fans were there and they had high energy. It felt kind of weird, it felt like my first game of freshman year because I had not played in over a year. I think that after the first couple of drives, I got right back in tune with where I was and I picked up right where I left off at Colorado."
West set a high standard for himself as a rookie, when he played in all 12 games and recorded ten tackles, including one for loss, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a quarterback chasedown (near-sack) en route to first-team Freshman All-Big 12 honors from Rivals.com. He was also named the Buffalos' Lee Williard Award winner, which is annually present to the most outstanding freshman, and he finished 2010 with 19 tackles, including 5.5 sacks and three more stops behind the line of scrimmage.
The excellent start to his collegiate career made sitting out last year even tougher for a guy who had never stood on the sidelines at that level.
"It sucked," he admitted. "The year went by pretty slow. I didn't have much to look forward to on the weekends. It was horrible. I wasn't allowed to travel because of NCAA rules. I wasn't able to go to the bowl games, so I had not felt that game day experience in a while.
"I'm glad [the first game] is under my belt. I was kind of like a deer in the headlights on the first play out there, but now it's all good."
Although it was tough, the redshirt year helped West in the transition from Colorado's defense, which was mostly a 3-4 alignment, to the Pack's 4-3 base package, while he has also grown as a player.
"It's a lot different, but I've picked it up," he said. "The scheme is pretty much the complete opposite [at NC State], so it was a lot to learn, but I got over that learning curve.
"I'm a much more physical player now. It's different here - the standards are a little bit higher than my old school and the tempo is a lot faster, so you have to adapt to that and pick it up, or you'll get left behind not playing."
Saturday's contest against Connecticut is an especially exciting opportunity for the big man, who hails from Canton, Conn. He hasn't played in his home state since high school, and he's expecting to see a lot of familiar faces in the stands.
"There's a whole bunch of family - probably about 50 of my family and friends - coming out," he said. "It's going to be different because I've never played there and I've never actually gone to a game at Rentschler Stadium, so I'm excited. I grew up about a five minute drive from the stadium, so it's really close [to home], but I never went to a game."
It's always interesting to hear about players trading their tickets with teammates, trying to accumulate as many as possible when the Pack travels close to somebody's home state. West is no different, but he's confident he'll be able to score a few extras for Saturday.
"Since it's far up north, there aren't too many people that are going to be having family travel from all the way down here," he said. "It should be no problem."