Tim Cornett is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
It started during childhood and has continued to the present day, even as the running back from UNLV is about to cross the threshold from college football to the professional ranks with the NFL Draft just two weeks away.
"You have stuff as far back as when I was growing up, and it was seven of us living in a two-bedroom (house)," said Cornett at the NFL Combine.
After growing up in Galena Park, Tex., Cornett accepted a scholarship to a moribund program at UNLV because he was told he had a chance to play—and play he did.
Cornett experienced personal success, becoming the first freshman in school history to lead the team in rushing with 546 yards in 2010. Team success, however, remained elusive, just like it had for much of the past decade in Sin City as the Rebels went 2-11.
Again in 2011, Cornett led the team in rushing, gaining 671 yards, although UNLV still couldn't manage more than two wins.
It was the same old story in 2012 as Cornett continued to achieve on an individual basis, being named an honorable mention all-conference selection after rushing for 1,232 yards. Nevertheless, the Rebels predictably went 2-11.
Finally, the breakthrough occurred during Cornett's senior season in 2013. Not only did he rush for a career-high 1,284 yards and 15 touchdowns, UNLV qualified for a bowl game for the first time since John Robinson was the head coach, 14 years prior.
"I can take partial credit, but as every running back says, it's the O-line that makes it up and stuff like that," said Cornett. "It's receivers blocking downfield."
Although the Rebels could finally boast of finishing a season with a winning record for the first time in a long time, Cornett continued to be overlooked. Despite becoming the school's all-time leading rusher (3,733 yards), despite being the only player from UNLV invited to the NFL Combine, he still couldn't earn MVP honors at the team's postseason banquet.
Cornett could at least take solace that NFL scouts weren't oblivious. He received invites to both the Senior Bowl and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
But in typical Cornett fashion, while other NFL prospects were busy trying to raise their draft stocks in an all-star game environment, he was hospitalized with food poisoning.
So goes the story of Tim Cornett, and considering the direction his life has taken, it probably shouldn't be a surprise he's ranked as just the 34th running back in this year's draft class by NFLDraftScout.com.
But in two weeks when the NFL Draft takes place, if NFL talent evaluators can disregard UNLV's dismal history to indentify a talented individual, or if they can recognize a bout of food poisoning as simply a case of bad timing, maybe they'll be able to see the 6' 0" and 209-pound running back that ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the NFL Combine for what he has the potential to provide.
If and when that time comes, Cornett won't forget who deserves the credit for where he's been and where he's going.
"My mom and my friends and family just really pushing me," said Cornett. "I've been through a lot in my life. Them really pushing me, telling me don't quit, stuff like that, it just really gave me optimism that I could really do what I'm doing today."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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