NORMAN — Corey Nelson stood alone on the stage, his emotions flowing and his rhymes going.
The Oklahoma linebacker is a poetry man. He fell in love with it back in high school at Dallas Skyline. He took poetry classes. He wrote his own verse. He even performed some of it.
“I just love the emotions you can put into poetry,” he said. “Just everything that's been bottled up in my head, I just put it out on paper with emotion. My own thoughts. My own words.”
Imagine the words he'll one day write about this point in his career. Less than two weeks ago, he was part of a defensive experiment, a talented and flexible piece of the puzzle that Sooner coaches were trying to figure out where he fit best. Nickelback? Linebacker? A hybrid of the two?
But one cracked big-toe bone later, Nelson is not only the starting weakside linebacker but also the replacement for the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
“It's been a lot of emotion,” Nelson said of recent days. “When I finally get time, I believe I'm going to write down something that's … really, really strong and powerful.”
Filling the void left by Travis Lewis is only the latest chapter in Nelson's story.
Nelson is the second of Cedric and Camisha Nelson's three sons. Brother Cedric is only a year older; brother Cortland is only a year younger. Even though the brothers are tight, Corey is not like the others. Neither Cedric nor Cortland played sports beyond elementary school.
“They didn't like it at all,” Nelson said of his brothers. “They were like, ‘It's too physical.'
“Both of those guys are band freaks. They love music. They love to listen to music. They love to play music.”
That gene didn't bypass middle brother completely; Nelson sings bass in the choir at church.
“I'm the only athlete in the family,” Nelson said.
And what an athlete he is. He became one of the top recruits in the high school hotbed of Texas, which means he was one of the best in the country, and when the Dallas Skyline star committed to Texas A&M in the fall of 2009, he became a headliner in the Aggies' recruiting class.
But when veteran A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines retired a month or so before signing day, Nelson had second thoughts.
“I wanted something more stable,” Nelson recalled. “It was a very tough decision, very stressful. I'm not going to lie to you; there were nights where I really couldn't sleep because I was constantly thinking about it.”
Nelson eventually chose OU, pulling a signing-day swap that left A&M types sore.
Here's betting this comparison won't sit well with the Aggies, then.
“Corey reminds me a lot of Von Miller,” OU nickelback Tony Jefferson said of the former Texas A&M defensive star. “He's explosive. He's quick. And he knows his stuff. He could play … any type of position because he has that type of ability.”
Sooner coach Bob Stoops said: “He's up to (starting at weakside linebacker), and he'll meet the challenge. He has that kind of personality and that kind of makeup.”
Which brings us back to the poetry.
Nelson is a self-proclaimed shy guy, and I don't know about you, but I don't know of many college students much less football players who love poetry. It is a little out of the ordinary. It tends to draw attention.
But that never kept Nelson from doing what he loved. When he had the chance to perform some of his poetry during high school, he didn't shy away from the stage.
He embraced it.
“You know, I try not to be always in the spotlight, I try to stay as humble as possible,” he said, “but I'm not afraid to get in the spotlight if that opportunity comes.”
Now, the opportunity is on the football field and the spotlight is on Nelson.
He is ready to go, ready to let it flow.