By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - How many times do you think Jordy Nelson has thanked himself for thinking big?
Earlier this fall, "Sports Extra" sat down with the former Kansas State wide receiver and learned this never before told story: "I came so close to going to Washburn or Emporia State and playing football and basketball. For whatever reason, I just told myself, 'If you're going to do it, go do it big. Do it at the highest level and see what happens.' I don't know if it was the Man upstairs who told me, but I just know things happen for a reason."
Nelson not only became a Wildcat, he became a record-setting K-State pass catcher, then a second-round NFL draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, and tonight will be playing in Super Bowl XLV againstthe Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm looking forward to it," Nelson under-stated last week. "We only have three or four guys on the team that have ever been to the Super Bowl, but we have support staff that was with the team back in the 1990s when they played in a couple of them. They've just told us to enjoy it because you never know when you're going back. Enjoy it, but you're going down there to win a game."
It was in 1996 seasons that Green Bay defeated New England, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI, but then lost the next year to Denver, 31-24, in XXXII.
Sunday evening in XLV, Green Bay will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the billion-dollar home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Folks, that's a long way from being a walk-on to Kansas State out of Riley County High School.
"We didn't have questions as to whether he could play, but we were looking at him as a defensive back and we thought we had those needs filled," said K-State coach Bill Snyder of only inviting Nelson to be a walk-on.
Nelson redshirted during K-State's 2003 Big 12 championship season, and remained on defense in 2004.
It was at that same time that Hays product Marcus Watts was a wide receiver, who was seemingly going nowhere at his position.
"Both of those guys would do anything in the world for their team," said Snyder. "Both were very unselfish and open to switching sides of the ball."
The moves by the two former high school quarterbacks were made going into the spring camp of 2005 and the impact was immediate.
Watts would take over starting duties at safety over the likes of Maurice Mack, Jesse Tetuan and Kyle Williams, while Nelson quickly vaulted past Antoine Polite, Jermaine Moreira, Tony Madison, Toney Coleman, and others, on the depth chart at wide receiver.
Watts would earn honorable mention all-Big 12 honors on defense and on special teams in 2005, and eventually end his career with 171 tackles from a strong safety position.
Nelson would be an honorable mention receiver in 2005 with 45 catches with eight TDs, and would end his career with record-setting numbers of 122 catches for 1,606 yards and 11 TDs in 2007.
"The moves turned out pretty good," said Snyder. "With both players, we just hadn't seen what they were capable of doing, but we knew each had the talent to contribute to our success."
Today, Nelson holds K-State records for most 100-yard receiving games in a single season (8), most career 100-yard games (10), most receptions in a game (15, twice), most catches in a season (122), the top two games for receiving yardage (214 and 209), most yardage in a season (1,606), most touchdowns in a game (3), second most catches in a career (206) and yardage in a career (2,822), third most TDs for a career (20) and fourth most scores in a single season (11).
Nelson, a consensus All-American in 2007, was a second-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers, chosen 36th overall in the draft. In K-State history, only Quincy Morgan - 33rd in the 2001 draft - was a higher selected wide receiver.
As a Packer rookie, Nelson caught 33 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Last year he snagged 22 passes for 320 yards and another pair of scores, and this year the 25-year-old Nelson, while playing behind Greg Jennings, has caught career-highs of 45 passes for 582 yards and two touchdowns.
Green Bay's No. 87, who had at least one catch in 15 of the 16 regular season games, has saved his best games for the NFL Playoffs with eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons, and four snags for 67 yards against the Chicago Bears.
All of those passes have come from the right arm of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Asked to scout his QB, Nelson snickered as he said, "On the field, he's great. He's a great quarterback, a smart guy, and competitive. He's everything you want in a quarterback. He's a playmaker."
Pausing, Nelson continued, "Off the field he's a hassle. He's a practical joker. He gives you a hard time so you have to be on your toes. You never know what he's going to do. That's from starting a water balloon fight during training camp to putting powder in your helmet. If anything happens, you can bet he started it.
"It's hard to get back at your quarterbacks when you're a wide receiver because you want the ball thrown to you," Nelson quipped.
Of his receiver, Rodgers said, "It's tough when you're playing with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and James Jones, because you're not going to get maybe the same opportunities you would get if you were with another team, because he is a legitimate No. 1 or No. 2 [wide receiver] for the majority of the teams."