Only hours before Kentucky faced Jacksonville State, Martavius Neloms was awakened last Friday night by a dream.
It was a touchdown dream.
"I woke up in the middle of the night," said Neloms, UK's junior safety. "I was like 'Man, I think I'm going to get out there and score today.'"
Which, as we all know, the Memphis product did.
With Jacksonville State facing a 2nd-and-9 at the UK 49 late in the first period of a scoreless game, Neloms came clean on a safety blitz, rocked JSU quarterback Coty Blanchard with a big hit and forced the ball free.
The 6-foot-1, 186-pound Neloms then executed a perfect "scoop and score," picking up the fumble and sprinting 40 yards into the end zone for his first college touchdown.
"My first thought was 'Just don't fall down,'" Neloms said Monday at UK Coach Joker Phillips' weekly news conference. "I see that a lot on TV, guys scoop the ball up and fall down and don't even get the chance to score."
As Phillips noted Monday, Neloms' play "set the tone" for what became a 38-14 UK victory Saturday that snapped a four-game losing streak for the Wildcats.
"It was the complete trifecta," UK co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Sack, forced a fumble, recovered it."
During a season where, so far, not an awful lot has gone right for UK (3-4, 0-3 SEC), one thing that has is the position switch initiated by Minter that moved the hard-hitting Neloms from cornerback to safety.
Though seniors Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan have gotten — and deserved — most of the positive attention for the UK defense this season, Neloms is turning in a rock-solid season of his own.
He has 49 tackles, third best on the UK team, with four pass breakups and an interception.
Neloms is "probably one of the better middle-of-the-field players we have had in a while that has the range to get from sideline to sideline," Phillips said. "He's a really good blitzer and anticipates the blitz real well."
In moving from corner to strong safety, Neloms said "I feel like I'm more able to make plays. I'm not isolated to one side of the field. I can come down and try to make great hits and great plays for the team."
The production Neloms is displaying this season was not anticipated by the recruiting gurus. Both Rivals and Scout gave him only two stars coming out of Fairley High School in Memphis.
Part of the reason he was not more highly regarded may have been that Neloms only played two seasons of high school football. This in spite of the fact his father, Marvin, played the sport at Arkansas State.
As a youth, Martavius was a track sprinter. Football never much interested him.
"I just wasn't too much of a fan of it at first," he said. "Then my dad kind of came to me with the idea my junior year (of high school), just go out and see if you like it."
Neloms intercepted six passes as a cornerback that first year, then followed it up with eight more picks as a senior.
"I picked it up pretty quick," he understated.
Neloms played as a true freshman at Kentucky. His "welcome to college football moment" came at South Carolina when injuries to starting cornerbacks Trevard Lindley and Paul Warford forced him into an emergency start.
Steve Spurrier's play-calling and star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery's ability feasted on the inexperienced cornerback.
Yet Neloms did not let that rough start break him. Last season as a sophomore, he made nine starts at corner, finishing with 55 tackles.
This year, he seems in his element delivering teeth-rattling hits from the safety position.
One of those hits yielded his first college touchdown.
"You like to see that kind of play out of a kid like him," Minter said. "He came out strong on that particular play and it set us in motion. And he's gonna be back next year."
For Neloms, last Saturday was like he had dreamed it.
"In my dream, it wasn't a scoop-and-score. It was more like an interception," he said. "But it worked out for me."
Phillips reiterated Monday that first-string tailback Raymond Sanders is "iffy" to play Saturday against Mississippi State after suffering a high-ankle sprain against Jacksonville State. Walk-on CoShik Williams, who ran for a career-high 148 yards against JSU, is listed number one at tailback on this week's UK depth chart. Jonathan George and Brandon Gainer, in that order, are behind Williams.
The UK coach said defensive end Collins Ukwu, who had missed three games with a shoulder injury, played "about six plays" against Jacksonville State. He is expected to play more against Mississippi State. Ukwu is listed second behind redshirt freshman Mike Douglas on the UK depth chart.
Coming off a 12-tackle effort against JSU, Winston Guy has now moved ahead of Danny Trevathan as UK's leading tackler, 79 to 77. The two are also 1-2 in the SEC in tackles. Trevathan led the conference in tackles a season ago with 144.