Junior Nick Melillo has had a long journey from Trinity High School to Lindenwood University to a walk-on tight end at the University of Kentucky. Melillo, who was the only tight end on the UK roster with game experience coming into the season, had the inside track on the starting job before being sidelined by a high ankle sprain in fall camp. He's expected to make his season debut against Auburn.
Q: How's the ankle feel?
A: It's been a long road, seven weeks. But I finally can run again. I'm anxious to get out there and compete. It's still not 100 percent, but it's just about getting back in the flow and getting used to the game speed.
Q: Was it frustrating considering it looked like you'd be the starter?
A: It was definitely frustrating. It took a lot of hard work to put myself into the position that I was. But everything happens for a reason. It's a game of physicality and injuries. It's just about bouncing back and having the right mind-set.
Q: It seems like you have an interesting story of how you got here. Mind sharing it?
A: I weighed 178 pounds my senior year of high school and didn't really get recruited by anybody. Lindenwood called, they ran the same offense as Trinity and they offered me, so I ended up going down there. I broke my pinkie after four or five games and it ended my season. Things went downhill from there, and I really didn't know if I wanted to play football anymore. I came to UK and watched the (2008) spring game with a couple of buddies. Once I watched, it made me want football that much more and I realized I still loved the game and wanted to play and see where I could go with it. I trained and gained 30 pounds, got up to 205, and then decided to try out. I tried out as a receiver, got on the team and gave the first team a good look on scout team. (Head coach) Joker (Phillips) asked me if I'd put on weight and move to tight end that spring. I got up to 235 and had two TDs in the spring game, and I was able to catch a few passes during the season and had a couple at Georgia.
Q: You've proven you can catch the ball, but the coaches also rave about your blocking.
A: I've really gotten better at my blocking. (Assistant) Coach (Greg) Nord has taken us from mediocre tight ends to help us become great ones. He's one of the top coaches in the country. We've got a lot more talent and potential than people realize. Coach Nord is grooming us to be the tight ends everybody thought we'd be when we got recruited.
Q: Have you always had a knack for catching passes?
A: As a receiver, I think I ran a 4.54. That's not slow, but I'm not a guy who's gonna go out there and burn you deep. I'm not Devin Hester or anything like that. Catching always came natural to me. Dad always took me in the backyard and we'd throw around. Knocking somebody down on a touchdown block is nice, but there's nothing like catching the ball.