Thursday, October 16, 2003

Nance now Miami's top offensive threat

Receiver has more yards than top rusher

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

At one time, the approach would have been considered sacrilege at the school that helped mold Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. Now, it's becoming routine. Halfway through Miami's football season, the RedHawks' leader in receiving yardage, third-year sophomore Martin Nance, has more yards than leading rusher, fifth-year senior Cal Murray.

If Nance or another Miami receiver ends up outpacing the RedHawks' top rusher for the entire season, it would be the second time that has happened in the last three years and only the third time since 1948, which is as far back as the records go in the school's media guide.

The prospect doesn't bother coach Terry Hoeppner one bit.

"My college coach was the first one I ever heard say, 'If they meant for you to carry the ball all the time, they'd put sand in it. That's why there's air in it, because you're supposed to throw it,' " Hoeppner said. "That's who we recruit. We look at receivers we think can play in this offense, and fortunately right now we have a pretty good number of them."

At 6 feet 4, 219 pounds, Nance might be the most gifted of the crew. The highly regarded native of Missouri, who visited Illinois and Kansas and turned down a scholarship offer from Northwestern, has 32 receptions for 539 yards and is on pace to set the school's single-season records of 54 catches (Jay Hall, 1997) and 1,028 yards (Trevor Gaylor, 1999).

"He was one of our more heavily recruited guys, and we thought all along that he was among the very special players," wide receivers coach Brian Von Bergen said. "We may have been too patient with him. We've been waiting for this year to happen. He's starting to live up to expectations. He's a fluid, talented player, and that, combined with the progress he's showing, is encouraging. He's a guy who can develop further. He's got so much upside."Nance offered several reasons for choosing Miami over schools from bigger, Bowl Championship Series conferences. One was his bonding with the group of recruits who joined him on his visit.

"I got a chance to learn a little bit about Miami," the accounting major said. "The opportunity to play with a quarterback like Ben (Roethlisberger) in the offense we run was very attractive to me, and off the field is great. Another thing that was attractive to me was the strong academics - the chance to learn at a high level and gain a respectable degree."

Nance showed signs of his explosiveness as a backup last season, when he led the team with an average of 15.8 yards per reception on 12 catches. His biggest play this season is a 61-yard touchdown catch in Miami's win at Northwestern, and he leads the RedHawks with an average of 16.8 yards per catch.

"Obviously, I'm a lot more experienced," he said. "I've had more time to jell with the guys around me. I'm more comfortable in the offense, and the coaches have gained more confidence in me."

Perhaps the only obstacle between Nance and the school records is Miami's balance. Roethlisberger and Josh Betts have combined to complete passes to 13 different receivers this season.

"We try to play a fair amount of guys at the receiver position," Von Bergen said.

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