Nelson one of three finalists for Thorpe

University of Florida junior free safety Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.) was named one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award on Tuesday by the Jim Thorpe Award Screening Committee. The trophy is given annually to the nation’s top collegiate defensive back. Nelson will be competing against Leon Hall (Michigan) and Aaron Ross (Texas) for the hardware.

Each of the three finalists will be invited to the nationally-televised Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN Dec. 7. The winner will be announced on the show, and the official presentation of the trophy will be made at a formal banquet in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Feb. 12, 2007.

On the defensive side of the ball, Nelson has collected 42 tackles this season, intercepted four passes and recovered a pair of fumbles for the Gators. Two of his four picks this season have come against Top-25 programs and his total of four interceptions ranks as the sixth-highest among SEC players.

Nelson has played a key role in UF’s punt block and punt return units. He blocked a punt in the LSU and Vanderbilt games and has gained 93 yards on 12 returns this year (7.8 yards per return).

The Melbourne, Fla., native was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 2 after an effort against Alabama in which he made five tackles, returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown, recovered a fumble at the end of a UF interception to retain possession for the Gators and broke up a pass.

Nelson also turned in great performances at Tennessee and against LSU. It was in Knoxville that he intercepted two Erik Ainge passes (the first and last pass of the game), which is Nelson’s single-game career-high. Against the Tigers, he blocked a punt in the third quarter and also dislodged a pass from the hands of an LSU receiver that led to an interception by teammate Ryan Smith. Nelson finished the night with three tackles and one pass defended.

His on-field exploits have also earned him the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Defensive Player of the Half-Year honors, as well as a spot on CBS Sportsline’s Halfway All-America Team. Prior to the campaign, he was selected to the Preseason All-SEC first team by the league’s coaches, while also garnering second-team recognition from the media. Earlier this month, he was named one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive player.

Former UF standout Lawrence Wright was the 1996 recipient of the award, making him the only Gator to take home the honor. Nelson joins free safety Louis Oliver (1988), cornerback Richard Fain (1990), cornerback Fred Weary (1997) and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (2003) as the sixth finalist in school history.