Many NC State football observers were surprised when defensive tackle Brian Slay played last fall as a true freshman, but in hindsight, Slay is grateful that he received the opportunity.
"I got a lot of experience from that," Slay said. "I didn't get a lot of snaps like I wished I would, but that's still a lot of experience I got, and it's a lot more playing time than I would have gotten this year. So it's a little bit more experience going into this year.
"The main thing I learn was the game speed, because the speed from practice and the game is a lot different, and it's a lot different from high school going out there as a true freshman."
With starters Alan-Michael Cash and Leroy Burgess gone, Slay is squarely in the mix for a starting spot next season. That's why he spent this offseason waking up at 4:30 a.m. to lift and run. He also put his nose in the defensive playbook.
"I think the biggest thing is actually knowing the calls," Slay said. "That was a huge thing this spring, I actually know all the calls. I think I did a good job this spring actually knowing all the calls, knowing why the defense is being called in situations."
Slay has also worked on transforming his body. He checks in at around 290 pounds, and he feels comfortable there.
"I lost a lot of high school fat," Slay noted. "I lost a lot of that. I still got a little bit on me, but as I get older and mature I'll lose it a lot more fat weight.
"Everybody wants to get stronger. If I can stay around this weight, around 290, and get a lot stronger, I think I'll be a better fit."
Slay, who had six tackles and an impressive eight quarterback hurries in limited snaps in 2009, said his work this spring has earned him simple feedback from the defensive coaches.
With uncertainty surrounding NC State defensive tackles J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn, both redshirt juniors who were arrested Saturday night, Slay's experience from last year could really pay off this upcoming fall.
"Basically just try to get better everyday, which is the biggest thing, try to get better each day and go into the fall best shape as possible," Slay said.