Terrell Manning expects NC State fans to see a new and improved version this upcoming season.
The rising redshirt sophomore has worked on his body - up to 224 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame - is playing without a knee brace and just a sleeve, and he is welcoming the new teachings of linebackers coach Jon Tenuta. Manning is also getting the chance to play alongside rising fifth-year senior middle linebacker Nate Irving for the first time.
Manning started two of 12 games last year, and finished with 48 tackles (31 solo), plus two tackles for loss, one quarterback pressure, one caused fumble, four passes broken up and one interception.
Rivals.com ranked Manning the No. 138 overall player in the country and No. 3 in North Carolina coming out of Laurinburg Scotland County High in 2008. He picked the Wolfpack over Clemson and Virginia Tech in a fierce recruiting battle.
Manning injured his knee in his last prep football game, which affected his ability to practice his redshirt season. He naively remembers thinking how he could just come in and live up to his four-star status and start at NC State once his knee was healthy. Manning has since learned, it's not that simple, but he's put in the time and effort this offseason. He's gained 20 pounds since high school and knows this upcoming season is a pivotal one for him after getting a taste of the action last year.
Manning entered the spring as the second-string weakside outside linebacker behind junior and recruiting classmate Dwayne Maddox. The two are friends, but love competing with each other.
"This year is a must-win situation for me," Manning said. "I have to win right now. I really want to play for this team longer down the road. I want to win out this position battle right now, and start the rest of my time here.
"He's a friend of mine, and we always thought we'd come in and play different LB positions. We've been battling since we first got here. There is no animosity between us, but I can't lose. I'll tell him right now, I won't lose."
Manning didn't know much about Tenuta's coaching background - he previously was at Notre Dame and before that Georgia Tech - but is learning about him this spring.
"He's a cool guy and a hard-nosed coach," Manning said. "He's real fun, smart and real cocky, just like me. I like him.
"Once we heard about him, we tried to YouTube.com a couple of things. We tried to figure some things out about him. We know that he knows what he's talking about at the end of the day. That is all that matters."
Manning said Tenuta emphases the importance of making the play. Having Irving alongside him will help in that process.
Manning brought big-play speed to the linebacking unit in trying to help replace Irving, but was also still trying to learn the nuances of college football. Having someone like Irving to show him or tell him the tricks of the trade is immeasurable. Irving missed last year because of a broken leg.
"It helps out a lot because Nate brought a swagger to the team that a lot of people have," Manning said. "By his presence being out there, you have to defend that guy. No matter what, that is going to open up things for everyone else, and he'll still make his plays."
Manning didn't know much about Irving until he arrived at NC State. He quickly learned that he had a mentor of sorts. Both players also know what it is like to have football taken away from them, though in much different manners.
"Nate is intense," Manning said. "When the team is down, he's going to provide a spark. He makes big plays every game. I hope to help back him up. When I first got here, I was like who is this Nate guy. He just came out of nowhere. He's a playmaker.
"I know he hears a lot about it [the car accident June 28], but it's something I can relate too. Mine wasn't a life and death situation. At the end of the day, he's just happy being out here playing football and being alive. Me, I just wanted to come back 100 percent. He's working on that, and I'm working on being 100 percent. Hopefully, we'll have a lot of fun out here."