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October 12, 2005

Reggie Nelson finally delivering for Gators

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Reggie Nelson was an Internet legend long before he played a down at Florida.

His speed, athleticism and playmaking were hyped to near-mythic proportions while the Gators recruited him in 2002. His reputation grew after he signed with Florida in 2003. According to message boards, office chat and sports talk shows, Nelson was going to be one of the best to play in Gainesville.

He still might.

He certainly has been one of Florida's best this season. Nelson leads the 11th-ranked Gators with four sacks and ranks sixth with 22 tackles. Not bad for a backup cornerback who played the last two years at a junior college.

"He doesn't say much. He just smiles. He knocks the fool out of people and just smiles," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "He loves to hit and I love to see him hit. He's just a baller. If you look at his history, he's always been the same: a baller. He makes big plays."

Nelson made countless big plays at Melbourne Palm Bay High and helped his team win state titles in 2000 and 2002.

Without hesitation, he decided to sign with Florida. But he failed to qualify academically in 2003 and begrudgingly spent two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, longing for his chance to join the Gators.

Last season, he led the Red Ravens with 67 tackles, intercepted six passes, returned one for a touchdown and recovered two fumbles.

The Gators waited most of the summer for Nelson to complete his course work and finally clear the way for arrival - two years after they initially expected.

Nelson has been worth the wait.

"He has something that a lot of other people don't have," said center Mike Degory, who played with Nelson in high school. "You all can label it whatever you want to label it. He's special. I don't know (what it is), but he knows where the ball is going to be at somehow."

Nelson had his best game Saturday against Mississippi State. He had two sacks, recovered a fumbled punt that set up a touchdown and downed two punts inside the 1-yard line - which led to two safeties.

Nelson also made a play late in the first half against the Bulldogs that saved points. Keon Humphries caught a pass down the sideline and was headed for the end zone when Nelson caught him from behind and knocked him out of bounds at the Florida 18 with 2 seconds remaining. Keith Andrews' 35-yard field goal was wide right.

"People say bad about everybody. I've never heard anybody say a bad word about him," coach Urban Meyer said. "He's such a great kid, and he is a great football player. It's not by accident he downed the ball inside the 1-yard line. It's not by accident he recovered that fumble. It's not by accident that he's always around the ball and sacking quarterbacks.

"He has a nose for the ball, he's confident and he loves the game."

Especially now that he's playing for the Gators.

"Every chance I get, I just go out there and make the best out of it," Nelson said.

Meyer said Nelson could get more playing time Saturday at No. 10 LSU. Although Nelson won't start in place of senior Vernell Brown or junior Dee Webb, the Gators might play more nickel and dime schemes to get Nelson on the field.

"He's been hungry since he first stepped foot here," safety Jarvis Herring said. "He's a playmaker. You just look at some people and say, `Hey, this guy's going to be a playmaker.' Just by practice you can tell. He's doing the same thing (in games)."

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