Nelson's Big Dreams Come True
Out of Class 3A Riley County High School just to the northwest of Manhattan, K-State coach Bill Snyder wanted Nelson to be a Wildcat, but only as a walk-on defensive back.
At Kansas, it was the same. Coach Mark Mangino thought Nelson's hips were too stiff to play in the secondary at the Big 12 level and was another to only offer a walk-on invitation.
"I came so close to going to Washburn or Emporia State and playing football and basketball," said Nelson, who tonight will join his Green Bay Packer teammates for a game in New England. "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."
The spring season was already under way following Nelson's senior season with the Falcons, when Nelson was still wavering on his future. At the time, he was also receiving a handful of calls to take his basketball talents to Iowa State University, along with daily interest from Emporia State and Washburn to play both sports.
But it was about that time, Nelson says, "It just hit me ... go play at the highest level possible, where the best coaches were and where the best training room would be. I just wanted to go where they had the whole sha-bang and see what happens."
What happened initially was not much.
Nelson redshirted in 2003, and was little more than a spectator in 2004 as a Wildcat safety.
"I found out in a hurry that after playing every snap in high school it wasn't a lot of fun to practice and not have any of the fun of game day," Nelson admits.
Then, Nelson made the switch from defense to wide receiver, earned a scholarship, and "... it became fun."
The 6-foot-3 Nelson caught 45 passes in 2005 and, after an injury-plagued junior season, set a K-State record with 122 catches for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2007. Oh yes, in that senior year Nelson also passed for two scores and returned punts twice for six points.
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).
Whew! That's a lot of fun!
Nelson was a second-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers, chosen 36th overall in the NFL draft. In K-State history, only Quincy Morgan - 33rd in the 2001 draft - was a higher selected wide receiver.
As a 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 38 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown.
His highs this season were five-catch games against Atlanta and the New York Jets, plus a 64-yard receiving game against the Miami Dolphins.
"Like each year in college, every game and every year you play you do a lot less thinking and more just playing," said Nelson, who has also returned 22 kickoffs for a 22.5-yard average this season.
All are numbers that have helped the Packers to an 8-5 record, putting them just one game back of the Chicago Bears in the NFC's North Division.
Nelson admits to being humbled to be a part of the storied Green Bay Packer franchise.
"They have the history all over the place. I do try to take time to think of all the guys who have walked through that tunnel and have dressed in that locker room," said Nelson. "I honestly try not to take it for granted because it is such an honor to walk out onto Lambeau Field. It's crazy to think I'm a part of it and playing in that stadium."
Nelson's off-field high came this past February 3, when his wife, Emily, gave birth to their son Royal.
"It really does give you a new perspective on life," said Nelson of fatherhood. "You can have a bad practice day, or a bad game, but you step in that door and it doesn't matter."
As for life in chilly Wisconsin, Nelson admits, "The amount of snow is absurd. In my rookie year we had more than 50 inches before the end of December. I was going to tough it out and not buy a snow blower, but after the first time I shoveled the driveway, I was at Sears the next day buying a snow blower. It's the best investment I ever made."