Natanu Mageo said spring practice is nearly a night and day difference this year compared to last.
Mageo transferred to NC State from New Mexico Military Junior College last spring, with the aim of becoming a rotation player at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder could tell the jump from junior college football to the ACC was a large one, just by practicing against the likes of Wolfpack center Ted Larsen, and guards R.J. Mattes or Zach Allen. He admits it wasn't pretty for a little while.
"It's a big difference in speed, size and strength, everything," Mageo said. "Last spring, I just got bullied around so bad for a couple weeks. In the single pass rush drills, I didn't get a win until the last week. It was very difficult against the guards and centers."
Mageo is now the one dishing out the punishment this spring.
"Now, I'm bullying them around," Mageo said. "I got more experience now. I went against Teddy, and I was watching Alan-Michael Cash and Leroy Burgess [at defensive tackle] last year. It has helped me out a lot."
Mageo feels more comfortable in the Wolfpack defense and is ready to build of his modest statistics of eight tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in 167 plays. He also had a memorable interception against Florida State.
"I know the system, and that was the most difficult part when I transferred here," Mageo said. "I know the defense, and I know about our gap integrity. You have to be more versatile as a defensive tackle. It was a lot of change."
Mageo thinks his best game came in the season finale against North Carolina.
"I didn't make a lot of plays, but I did what I was supposed to do," Mageo said. "We played the defense the way it was supposed to work."
The last year has also helped Mageo reshape his body.
"Last year, I got up to 295, but it was bad weight," said Mageo, who has lowered his 40-yard dash time from around 5.4 seconds to around 5.1. "I got my weight down, and now it's back up to 292. It's way better weight. I feel a lot quicker."
Being a senior is admittedly kind of weird for Mageo. He wishes he could be at NC State for all four years instead of two.
"I don't feel like a senior at all," Mageo said. "I feel like a sophomore, since it's my second year playing [at NC State]. Sometimes, I think it's just too early and came by too fast.
"I think I should still contribute as a leader because I am a senior. I'm the only senior at D-Tackle, though J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn are redshirt juniors [seniors academically]. I think I should step it up."
Mageo, Sweezy, Kuhn and sophomore Brian Slay appear to be next year's defensive tackle rotation. Mageo hopes he earns the starting nod in the season opener against Western Carolina.
"I'm a senior, and I should push myself to do my best to earn that starting job," Mageo said. "In order to be a leader, I need to be on that first defense."
The native of Pago Pago in the American Samoa said he's on track to graduate with a degree in criminology in May 2011. He'd be the first person in his family to have earned a college degree, though he's proud of his brother, who earned an associate degree in junior college. He is now serving in Iraq.
"It's a big challenge for me to do academics and play on the field," Mageo said. "There is a lot of competition going on. My No. 1 goal right now is to graduate."