With 1 hit, Cory Nelms delivers for Hurricanes
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Here are Cory Nelms' career statistics for Miami: One tackle, nothing else.
He's the Hurricanes' one-hit wonder.
Nelms' moment came on the second-half kickoff Saturday night against Oklahoma. Nelms took his spot along the left sideline on Miami's kick-coverage team, using his track-honed speed to sprint past anyone in his path when Alex Uribe sent the ball skyward. Once in the clear, no one was between Nelms and Oklahoma returner Mossis Madu.
Nelms collided with Madu at full speed, sending the returner's legs into the air and driving him into the turf. A half-minute later, with both Miami's stadium and sideline still palpably buzzing from Nelms' hit, the Hurricanes took the lead for good in what became a 21-20 victory, the program's first over a top-10 team since 2005.
"Cory Nelms," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "When he got that big hit, that was the turning point in the game."
Maybe in the season, too. Heck, maybe for the direction of the Miami program altogether.
"Best feeling I've ever had in my life," Nelms said.
Not bad for a guy who got into his first college game three weeks ago, came to Miami from Neptune (N.J.) High with hopes of becoming a track standout, and could walk around campus without just about anyone realizing he plays for the 11th-ranked Hurricanes.
Until now, anyway.
"Lot of new conversations today. People recognized me," Nelms said Monday. "It's like I'm known now, a little bit more."
The Hurricanes were down 10-7 at halftime Saturday night, and Shannon delivered what players described as a passionate speech. The first thing that would happen, Shannon vowed, was that Miami would get a big hit on the ensuing kickoff.
Nelms was listening. Only in his third college game, he made a big play happen.
"We've been getting him in and doing a lot of things," Shannon said. "He's fast, he's a big-body kid, so we figured he could go down and there and make something happen."
That speed was on full display Saturday night.
Nelms was one of the best high school hurdlers in New Jersey before coming to Miami, even finishing second as a junior in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2005 national scholastic indoor championships, only 0.03 seconds from winning the title. After being a football-track athlete at Neptune High, he got a partial track scholarship to Miami, the school he decided he'd attend as a freshman in high school.
"I always liked their style of play, their attitude, in every sport," said Nelms, who attracted interest from Virginia Tech, Duke and a slew of Atlantic 10 schools wanting him to be a two-sport guy in college.
The track scholarship was only worth about $5,000 annually, roughly one-tenth of what it costs to attend Miami per year.
Per NCAA rules, he's now on football scholarship because he's played in a football game.
"Saves a lot of money," said Nelms, who's a senior academically but hasn't ruled out playing football again in 2010.
Nelms and the rest of the Hurricanes' coverage units could find themselves in vital roles this week when Miami (3-1) plays host to Florida A&M (4-0).
The Rattlers come from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, have lost six straight games to Miami by a combined 307-33 and will be considerable underdogs Saturday night. But they have an electric returner in LeRoy Vann, who has already run back four punts for touchdowns this season and has 10 return TDs in his last 16 games.
"Regardless of whether it's FAMU or whoever, we're treating everyone like they're the best team in the world," Nelms said.
Nelms has been an All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles for Miami, but made by far his biggest splash against the Sooners -- with the hit that someone posted on YouTube a few hours after the game.
He's enjoying the attention.
"All you want to do is go make a play," Nelms said. "To be part of that, to do it with my teammates, I mean, it's just a great experience for me."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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