It surprised a few fans when redshirt junior Terrell Manning declared his intentions to bypass his final year of eligibility and enter his name into the NFL Draft. However, he felt like his time had come to join the professional ranks after proving himself as one of the league's top linebackers.
"I just felt like I was one of the best linebackers in the ACC this year and everyone knows there are some pretty highly rated linebackers in the ACC," he said after completing his Pro Day workout for scouts on Wednesday. "The ones that weren't rated as high, I thought I was just as good. I felt like anybody that watched me play and compared me to those people would know that, as well. I felt like the team was a different team with me on the field. I had some people disagree and I had some people agree with that, but I'm a firm believer in that. That's what really guided my decision."
The second-team All-ACC selection finished fourth on the squad in tackles in the fall despite missing almost three games due to a minor knee injury (he played 16 snaps against South Alabama before hurting his knee). In the eight games Manning played after returning, though, he made a legitimate push for first-team all-conference laurels. He tallied 69 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, recovered three loose balls and snared three interceptions during the season's home stretch.
In addition to the stellar way the Manning wrapped up his final campaign in the Red and White, he also has battled a pair of knee injuries recently, including one suffered in his final prep game at Laurinburg (N.C.) Scotland County High that forced him to redshirt his first year on campus; and that played a role in his decision to enter the draft.
"If I was to take another injury, who knows where I would end up at," he said. "At the end of the day, I was blessed enough to come back from the minor surgery I had this year and play as well as I did. [The injuries] definitely played a role in my decision, and I think I made the right one. I played my best ball immediately after I came back from surgery - the best I've ever played, as a matter of fact, and it worked out in my favor."
Although some were surprised by Manning's decision, there was one close friend who had been predicting it since 2010, albeit jokingly.
"I spoke with Nate [Irving] a lot about it," Manning said. "He always made jokes last year whenever we played together about me coming out [early], so I'd say he kind of saw it coming. That's my guy.
"He told me to just go there with a clear mind and not worry about what everybody else is saying because there is going to be negativity. He told me to go out there and play, do what you have to do to make it, and that's what I'm doing now."
Ever since making the decision, Manning has been focused on proving his doubters wrong and becoming the best linebacker he can be. Part of his preparation included moving out to Phoenix, Ariz. and training at Athletes' Performance.
"It's been hectic," he admitted. "There's been a lot of football and a lot of lifting. I worked out three times a day, I ate from a real training table, and a chef prepared everything for me as an individual. I was real strict and it was unlike anything I have ever done before in my life. I think it helped out a lot."
Another part of the star defender's path to the NFL included taking part in the NFL Combine, held in Indianapolis, Ind.
"Indianapolis was one of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life," he said. "It was cold, they wake you up early in the morning for medicals and you have medicals all day. Then, they expect you to go out there and perform to your highest level. It was a very bad experience, but I mean I was glad it was one I got to do."
Teams did their due diligence on Manning's health, but he said no red flags were raised after MRIs were done on both knees.
"Everything checked out well, they were definitely pleased with my health," he said.
Although the combine had Manning out of his comfort zone, that did not affect his results, which included a 4.79 second 40-yard dash, 22 repetitions on the bench press, a 32.5 inch vertical jump, 114.0 inch broad jump, 7.18 seconds in the three cone drill and 4.43 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. He also enjoyed the chance to meet with the various teams and coaches from around the league.
"I did well," he said. "I think I answered a few questions. A lot of people thought I was going to be undersized, they had me down at 224-225 [pounds]. I weighed in at 237. I ran a decent 40 time, the unofficial times are what I've seen, I don't know where the official time comes from, but I think I had an overall decent performance.
"I was a big Carolina [Panthers] fan for a while and the craziest thing that happened was I waked in the room for Denver, and it's John Fox and John Elway sitting there. I was just like, 'whoa.' That was when it all hit me. It was a great experience, but they ask you everything, down to do you drink? Do you have a girlfriend? Things like that, and they'll get real personal. I got a few interesting questions, some of them I'm not going to say. But everything went well in the interviews, I was very pleased about how I interviewed."
Manning is expected to be the first NC State product taken in the 2012 draft, which will be held on April 26-28. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. lists him as the No. 3 outside linebacker available in the player pool.