LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - In four games, tight end Nate Nord has achieved more with No. 19 Louisville than he has in four years.
Being healthy has a lot to do with the senior's success.
Nord is the Cardinals' third-leading receiver with 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Nord has worked to get back in shape after injuries to his shoulders, knee, pectoral and hamstring muscles slowed his career.
Those setbacks caused Nord to consider leaving the program last year before coach Charlie Strong talked him out of it. Good thing for Louisville (4-0), which now has a tight end who catches as well as he blocks.
Things are also turning out well for Nord, who says he couldn't ever leave. After all, his childhood dream was to play for the Cardinals.
``I had the best spring (practice) since I've been here and the coaches were praising me and giving me a lot of confidence in myself,'' the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Nord said. ``The main thing was just having confidence in myself, and I've really developed a lot from last season to now.''
So much that no one would be shocked if Nord is a frequent target for Teddy Bridgewater in Saturday's game at Southern Mississippi (0-3). That's saying something considering the sophomore quarterback has spread his passes among receivers and running backs, making it hard for opponents to key on anyone.
Nord didn't catch a pass in Saturday's 28-21 victory at FIU - Bridgewater hit seven receivers, after three games of finding at least nine - but his blocking helped the offense rally from a 14-7 deficit.
But the three previous games showed how Nord and Bridgewater have meshed. Sandwiched between three-catch, 19-yard efforts against both Kentucky and North Carolina was a career-best performance against Missouri State, which began with a drop.
Wide open in the end zone on Louisville's second drive, Nord's chance for his first regular-season touchdown went off his fingertips. Disappointment didn't last long, however, as he capped the next possession with a 14-yard TD, diving the final few yards for the goal line.
It was the highlight of a four-catch, 59-yard day.
``He told me he was mad (about the drop) and said he took his eye off the ball,'' said Nord's father Gary, a Purdue assistant coach. ``But he's been at it long enough to know that you've got to have a short memory to be a football player and forget about it right quick.''
Nord has had to apply that philosophy to the past four years as well. Redshirted in 2008, he didn't see action the next season and caught just eight passes for 50 yards and a TD over the next two while dealing with injuries, including a torn pectoral muscle in camp last fall.
Turnover with position coaches didn't help. Nord has worked with four, including uncle Greg Nord, now a Kentucky assistant.
That led to an offseason meeting with Strong to discuss his future. The coach, facing a lack of depth at tight end with Josh Chichester's graduation, reassured Nord that he was wanted and needed.
``I felt like that was a young man that could help our program,'' Strong said. ``He had already graduated, so I told him he had another year (of eligibility) and I wanted him to come back and be successful on the football field. ... I said, `you do not really do not want to quit.' He did not seem to really want to quit, so we didn't really have a discussion.''
That was all Nord had to hear.
``I just wanted to see his perspective on where he thought I was and how he thought I could help the team,'' he said. ``It was good that he had confidence in me, that I could be a difference for the team.''
Nord returned about 10 pounds lighter and feeling better than ever, which has been reflected in his involvement. One of nine seniors, he has embraced a leadership role as well.
``I'm not surprised,'' said Gary Nord, who tries to see his son play as Purdue's schedule allows. ``I knew that if he ever got a break, and he's been getting bad breaks, that he would contribute. But he's finally getting some good breaks and is able to stay healthy. That was really good to see.''
Strong has mentioned that meeting often, using it as an example of perseverance and commitment. The latter was never in question for Nord when it came to Louisville, where his father, uncle and brother Rick either played, coached or both.
Even as Nord was recruited by Miami and others at West Boca Raton (Fla.) High School, Louisville seemed to be the logical and sentimental destination for him.
Which is one reason he's glad to be contributing, especially the pep talk he received from his coach.
Strong ``told me I was going to have a big offseason and I was going to work hard,'' Nord said. ``Everything was going to work out this year.''
AP freelance writer Josh Abner contributed to this story.