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November 16, 2011

Players remember their first touchdowns

Nick Melillo will never forget his first touchdown. It only happened five days ago, but he still remembers every detail.

On second-and-nine, 22 yards away from the end zone, Maxwell Smith called the play: left spread hawk even blade.

"I was the backside bender and as long as they stay in cover-2 with the middle open with two safeties, I just had to beat the linebacker over the top and bend my way into the middle," Melillo said. "I got past the linebacker, the safeties were still wide and I made a move to get myself in the middle in the open space. Then Maxwell put the ball on me."

Melillo saw the official raise his arms and signal to signal a touchdown. The senior who arrived at Kentucky as a walk-on calmly dropped the ball, chest-bumped fellow senior Matt Roark and went back to the huddle to prepare for the two-point conversion.

It was a play the Wildcats had run often in practice that week, and Melillo knew there was a good chance it would be called in the game. He had hoped his first touchdown would come in a close game, but it was an unforgettable feeling nonetheless.

"It wasn't how I expected to get my first touchdown, but it felt like some weight lifted off my shoulders," Melillo said. "I've been waiting my whole career to have a game like that and get my first touchdown."

Reaching the end zone for the first time is a high point in any college football player's career, no matter how it happens. Whether it comes near the end of their career, like Melillo's, or early, it's still a special moment.

Raymond Sanders found the end zone in his second career game as a freshman. Late in the fourth quarter of a blowout win against Western Kentucky, he took a handoff 10 yards out and found pay dirt.

"I took it off the left side, the tight end got a good kick out block and I cut up under him," Sanders said. "I dove in the end zone and I almost fumbled it, but I got the ball stuck against my head. I definitely remember that one."

Tee Martin's first touchdown pass came when he was a freshman for the Tennessee Volunteers against UNLV in 1996. The play call was one they had rehearsed often in practice: right six gap W pigtail. Then he found Vol receiver Graff Corby for a score.

Martin was so worried about getting the team lined up he didn't have time to savor it.

But he still remembers how he felt after the play. Now, whenever a Kentucky player scores his first touchdown, Martin takes the time to congratulate him. Two of his receivers, E.J. Fields and Matt Roark, have found the end zone for the first time this season.

"If you're any kind of football player who loves the game, you want to get a touchdown," Martin said. "That's why you do it. You think about receivers, they run so many routes, they're open a lot and the ball doesn't come to them. When it finally comes to them and they get it, it's a proud moment."

Most players daydream that their first touchdown will come at a huge point in the game. Junior wide receiver La'Rod King was lucky enough for that to be the case. His first touchdown came almost exactly two years ago this weekend when Kentucky upset Georgia in Sanford Stadium. He caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Morgan Newton to pull Kentucky within a touchdown in the third quarter.

"It was an over route and I thought Morgan was looking at the tight end," King said. "I was thinking 'Please throw me the ball. I'm dead open.' He threw it and I just caught it. I caught it and I was shocked, actually. I thought 'Oh my gosh, now I have to score!' It was amazing."

That feeling lingers even after the game. Melillo had 40 text messages waiting for him when he checked his phone after the game. Sanders had 30 and more than half a dozen missed calls. Martin, who played before the time of cell phones and Facebook, saw that many of his friends had paged him.

Getting that first touchdown is a proud moment for every player. But they also hope there's plenty more to come.

"When I think about my touchdown, it just makes me want more," Melillo said. "It makes me want the ball even more. I want 10 catches. I want two touchdowns in this game. It's so much fun, but I just want to win, man."

Sanders didn't have to wait long for his next score. He had another touchdown, from a one-yard run, on the next drive.

But it still didn't compare to that first touchdown.

"It never gets old to me," Sanders said. "It's my first touchdown, so I'll be able to tell my kids about that."


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