Things can change quickly for senior football recruits as their final high school seasons wind to a close and another year’s worth of highlight film — presumably their fastest and strongest year yet — hits the desk of college coaches.
Suitland senior defensive back Nick Nelson, for example, wasn’t exactly struggling to garner attention: he had offers from Temple, North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T and had several other schools expressing serious interest.
That all changed with a casual question from one of his coaches two weeks ago, at a Suitland practice attended by Towson.
“Coach [Melvin] Coleman just randomly asked me ‘how’s recruiting going?’” Nelson said. “Then he asked me, ‘do I mind going out west?’ I said no, I don’t mind.”
“He said I’ll get back to you. And a few days later their coach called me, put me on the phone with Hawaii’s head coach [Norm Chow] and offered me a scholarship.”
Maryland isn’t exactly the University of Hawaii’s go-to recruiting hotbed. In fact, according to The Post’s records, he’s the first D.C.-area player to commit to play football there in recent memory. But Coleman knew Hawaii’s defensive backs coach and knew he was looking for secondary standouts with good size and good speed. Nelson had both, and when Hawaii’s coaches saw his film, they agreed.
With a scholarship offer in hand, Nelson had that whole 4,860 miles thing — the approximate distance between Suitland High and the University of Hawaii according to World Atlas — to think about.
“I was just thinking about how far it was, thinking it might be too far,” Nelson said, explaining that he’ll take his first visit to the 50th state in January to make sure the fit is the right one. “My Mom, she didn’t really like it. My Dad, he said you should take it because they play USC every year and have a couple players in the league.”
That kind of big-game exposure and a chance at the next level sold Nelson, who said that liking the school and “being able to play early” in his career were among his top priorities in choosing a school.
Hawaii’s defensive backs coach Daronte’ Jones played at Morgan State with Melvin Coleman, “and he was talking about how he wanted me to come down and be a true freshman and play there,” Nelson said. “I talked it over with my parents and I just committed.”
The 6-foot, 188-pound Nelson combines strength with speed and has been a menace to area passing games for the past two years. This season, Nelson fractured his thumb and had to wear a cast for a handful of games in the middle of the season. He still picked off two passes in that time. Nelson also plays receiver for the No. 5 Rams (11-0), duties he had to abandon while in the forearm-length cast. Even with the missed time, he’s the Rams’ second-leading receiver with 20 catches for 503 yards and five touchdowns.
“I fractured the bottom of my thumb,” Nelson said of the injury. “I didn’t play receiver, I just played DB. I caught the two interceptions with my body. It would’ve been kind of hard [to play receiver]. It would have been hard to block. I would’ve been getting a lot of holding penalties.”
With Nelson shutting down a whole side of the field on the outside, Delaware commit Anthony Jackson turning teams away at linebacker, and a host of other quick-footed hard-hitters, the Rams’ defense has allowed the second fewest total points (79 through 11 games) in the DC-area this year.
“We fly around, we fly to the ball,” Nelson said. “We always try to have 11 players to the ball, and we work on that at practice and try to do it every play.”
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