In the fifth game of the 2010 season, cornerback David Amerson took over Justin Byers' starting slot at the boundary corner position. Amerson earned the starting nod against Virginia Tech, opposite of field corner C.J. Wilson, and never relinquished it while Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff opened the game at the safety positions.
As spring practice begins for the 2012 campaign, all four players are still hanging onto their spots atop the depth chart for the Red and White. After a pair of seasons when the quartet played behind an experienced linebacking corps, the equation is flipped for next fall. This season, the unit's leaders reside in the defensive backfield, which burst onto the scene last autumn while helping the Wolfpack force 39 turnovers, which ranked second in the FBS.
There have been only four instances since that contest against the Hokies where the Pack opened with a starting combination different than Amerson, Wilson, Bishop and Wolff on the back line.
Amerson led the country in interceptions last fall with 13 (second-most for a single season in FBS history) and won the Jack Tatum Award, in addition to being named a first-team All-America. Wilson has tied a school record with three picks returned for touchdowns during his career.
Bishop has also displayed an excellent nose for the ball and racked up nine interceptions over the past two seasons while he averaged 81.5 tackles per season during that span. Meanwhile, Wolff has tallied over 200 stops during his two years as a full-time starter, in addition to picking off four passes, forcing seven fumbles and recovering two more loose balls.
Amerson is the youngest out of the quartet and he is preparing for his true junior campaign. The others are all entering their senior year of eligibility and know they must lead the way with a rotating cast of characters in front of them at linebacker - the Pack will need to find a trio of new starters there - and a developing defensive line that must find new starters at both tackle positions.
"I think we're all real comfortable back there," Bishop noted. "We've got some new guys in front of us, but they're talented, they're learning and they're working hard every day. We're going to keep getting better in the back end, so I think the defense is going to be fine.
"I don't there is pressure [on the defensive backs], but I think we have performed so now we've built ourselves some expectations. We should live up to them. We're the senior group on the defense and it's our time to carry the load. I feel like we're working hard and we're in a good position to kind of provide leadership for the young guys. We'll definitely be a strong point for our team."
In terms of career starts, Bishop leads the entire roster with 33 while Wolff is tied for second on the team with 30 (offensive tackle R.J. Mattes also has 30). Wilson is right behind his fellow defensive backs with 29 starts while Amerson has earned the starting nod 22 times in his college career.
The quartet has combined for 663 tackles, 11 forced fumbles, six recovered fumbles, 29 interceptions and six defensive touchdowns during their NC State careers, so expectations are high for their final year together.
"Personally, I can definitely improve on a lot of things," Amerson said. "I made a lot of good plays, but I made a lot of bad ones last year, too. I'm trying to eliminate the mental mistakes, as well as the physical ones.
"I think we're going to be pretty good. The whole secondary comes back and I know the young guys will step up. They've got a lot of talent, they just have to get on board with the playbook and everything. I think a lot of us are going to have to step up in the secondary and be leaders considering that we're the veteran group. We'll help out the younger guys and just make it a better all-around defense."
The star cornerback noted that while last year's 13 interceptions was an incredible achievement, he is setting his sights higher.
"It was definitely a blessing, it was a great accomplishment and it's something that I won't forget," he said. "I'm going to try to do it again, if not better."
With the group preparing for its third year as a unit, Amerson noted that each player knows the others' tendencies, strengths and playing style, which helps between the white lines, particularly with communication on the game field.
"It definitely helps that we've been playing together, but it's not just me and C.J., it's also Earl and Bishop," he said. "We always have a connection back there and I think it shows on the field. It's like being out there with your brother."