It may not be Superman’s chest emblem, but a certain amount of expectations come with wearing jersey No. 1.
Just ask Kentucky senior defensive back Martavius Neloms, who has turned in his old No. 15 for 1 prior to his final season with the Wildcats.
“Growing up, everybody wants to be No. 1,” said the Memphis, Tenn., native. “That number brings a lot of attention with it, and I feel like you have to produce and perform if you wear it. With this number on my chest, I feel like I have to go out every day and bring my best.
“I love a challenge.”
That’s not the only change for Neloms entering the 2012 season. He is also making the adjustment from safety, where he started 10 games as a junior, to cornerback, where he played as a freshman and sophomore.
“The biggest change is playing a lot of man coverage,” he said. “At safety, I could just roam back there and see everything that was going on. But now, I’m lined up isolated on just one guy trying to eliminate him from the play.”
It’s a task that requires a healthy amount of ego.
“I feel like you have to have that swagger about you to play corner,” said the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Neloms, who is not only one of the faster Wildcats, but one of the their most physical players.
The other key ingredient to being a good corner? A short-term memory.
No matter what happened on the previous play, Neloms said, “you have to feel like you can eliminate anyone from the play.”
He learned that the hard way as a freshman who played in 10 games directly out of the high school ranks.
“My freshman year, I was young, and I kind of got thrown out there,” Neloms said. “I feel better now with some time under my belt, some years under my belt of playing against the best.”
And the age-old axiom that most of us can relate to in our trade: “I wish I knew more then that I do now.”
Neloms started the first 10 games last season at safety before missing the final two due to injury. Still, he ranked third on the team with 71 tackles, including 10 against both Central Michigan and LSU. He was also second on the team with five pass break-ups.
The experience of playing both positions in the secondary will make him an even better corner, Neloms predicts. He has set a goal of at least five interceptions this season.
“It’s helped me a lot because, playing safety, I was the one back there telling the corners what to do,” he said. “I didn’t realize how hard that was, me telling them what to do and them going out and doing the things I was telling them. It’s difficult, so it helps me know what to do better at both (positions).”
He’s using some of that knowledge in a leadership role this season.
“I do feel like the old man now,” Neloms said with a laugh. “We have a lot of young freshmen (five signees at corner), and they’re always asking me a lot of questions and trying to learn. They look up to me, so it does make me feel a lot older. I like them leaning on me. They know they can come to me with anything on the field or off the field. I’m kind of like a big brother to them.”