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Inside The Chart: Different Breed

by Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets)

Different Breed:  Who can fill the “alpha” role in the Georgia Tech receiving corps?  Nate McCollum, buoyed by the wisdom of old teammates, hopes his strong start has offered a glimpse.

Nate McCollum knows he’s fast, knows he’s agile, but he also knows he’s nowhere near as imposing as Capone.

That would be McCollum’s black brindle Cane Corso, who lives in his apartment with him and his roommate, linebacker Tyson Meiguez. A breed of Italian mastiff, the Cane Corso regularly ranks among the largest dogs in the world according to the American Kennel Club.

“He’s going on nine months and he should be about 120 pounds right now,” said the 5-foot-11, 184-pound McCollum.

(For perspective, that’s only 18 pounds lighter than what his teammate, slot receiver Malik Rutherford, weighed when he enrolled at Tech.)

A native of McDonough, Ga., McCollum is an unabashed dog lover who has helped raise and breed dogs with his uncle for the past several years. Whenever he seeks peace away from the field, Capone is usually by his side, often on trips to the dog run at Piedmont Park. Even there, Capone’s size draws gasps.

“I feel like your identity shouldn’t be just as a football player. Find something to do to take your mind away from it sometimes,” McCollum said.

As for his on-field identity, the sophomore is hoping he can grow into the alpha dog of the Georgia Tech receiving corps. McCollum gave a glimpse of his versatility last Saturday in Tech’s 35-17 win over Western Carolina, scoring on a 40-yard reverse while adding a 17-yard catch and 43 yards on two punt returns.  Through two games he leads the Yellow Jackets in receptions (seven), receiving yards (72) and all-purpose yards (170).

“Nate is a dynamic player,” said head coach Geoff Collins. “He can do so many things as a receiver and as a runner.”

VIDEO: Nate McCollum's 40-yard touchdown run vs. Western Carolina

High expectations followed McCollum into the season, even though he only had 15 catches over his first two years. His field-stretching speed (he clocked a 4.41 40-yard dash in high school) and ability to run multiple routes made him seemingly well-suited to offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Tracking balls in flight didn’t figure to be a problem either – McCollum was a decorated center fielder at Dutchtown High School who planned on playing both football and baseball at Tech. He’s tabled those two-sport ambitions for now, though he says his background as a center fielder has helped him on measuring punts and deep balls.

In order to make a bigger impact this year, McCollum knew needed to improve his conceptual understanding of the position.

“When I got to college, I was just thinking being physical would help me be good,” he admitted. “I had to be a student of the game.”

He credits former wideout Kyric McGowan, now on the practice squad of the NFL’s Washington Commanders, with showing him how to study film with better astuteness. As he immersed himself in Long’s system, he applied a lot of the lessons he learned from McGowan – how to outwit a defensive back, how to adjust a route based on certain looks, and how to create openings for his teammates.

“Sometimes when a play needs to develop, you might need to do something for another player to get open. That’s the ‘why.’ How are you going to do it to get that player open? So you always have to pay attention to little details,” he said.

That work ethic doesn’t surprise his head coach.

“He’s such a hard worker, such a great guy in the locker room. The team just naturally vibes with [him]. I’m excited to continue to see him grow and develop within our program,” Collins said.

As he strives to become a better student of the game, McCollum also shared another quirk of his time as a Tech student. When he was a freshman, his mom, Brittney, a middle school English teacher, was taking master’s courses at Georgia State. For a year, Nate and his mom were college students at the same time.

“It was pretty cool. Sometimes when I had a little free time and she was done with class, I would call her because I had no money. And she would take me out to eat right across the [5th Street] bridge,” he joked.  His mom, he adds, is now working on her doctorate.

McCollum’s work continues this Saturday when Georgia Tech faces No. 17 Ole Miss at Bobby Dodd Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports). He’s had an encouraging start to his sophomore season, but he knows it’s still a small sample size. McCollum also knows what a win would do for the trajectory of the Yellow Jackets’ season.

“You try to treat every game the same, but of course this is a big game for us. I feel like this will give us a push into our long stretch during the season. We really want this game. We’re going to come prepared to make the plays,” he said.

And if McCollum helps lead Tech to a win? A nine-month, 120-pound Cane Corso will be waiting for one excited owner back home.

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