Until about a year ago, Matt Nelson had reason to think that basketball would provide his best chance for a free college education.
His first Division I scholarship offer came from Rice University for basketball during the 6-foot-8 Nelson’s junior year at Cedar Rapids Xavier. Several more offers in basketball soon followed, but now his list of offers in that sport pales in comparison to football.
Nelson signed a national letter of intent with the Iowa football team on Wednesday. The all-state defensive end turned down scholarships from Notre Dame, Stanford, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arkansas and San Diego State among others to be a Hawkeye.
“It’s about time, I guess,” Nelson said. “I’ve been waiting since I committed to sign.”
Nelson committed to Iowa in late June 2013, shortly after returning from a recruiting trip to Stanford. His commitment came after a winter and spring in which Nelson’s stock soared.
Xavier football coach Duane Schulte said Nelson’s recruitment changed almost overnight, starting with an unexpected scholarship offer from San Diego State.
“That’s a story in and of itself,” Schulte said. “He was getting correspondence from people and letters and stuff. And I don’t know how all these college coaches do all this stuff. If they send us stuff, we send stuff back. There are some recruiting things that we put guys’ names into.
“But for Matt, I just remember San Diego State calling me one day and telling me they were going to offer Matt. I was like great, but I had never even talked to San Diego State. And I didn’t know if Matt did. The next day, Stanford called and they were going to offer Matt. And from then it just ballooned.”
Nelson isn’t sure why he turned into an overnight sensation as a football recruit.
“It’s just the snowball effect, I guess,” Nelson said. “After that first one comes in, then you get a lot more.”
Nelson will become the first player from Xavier to sign a letter of intent with Iowa for football.
“I was not aware of that,” said Nelson, who helped lead Xavier to the Class 4A title game last season. “But it’s a really cool thing to play for a team that plays about a half-hour away.”
Nelson played tight end and defensive end for Xavier, but the Iowa coaches apparently like him more on defense. His size ultimately could determine where Nelson plays in college.
“That’s kind up for the Iowa coaches to decide, but I know he’s going to get bigger,” Schulte said. “He’s nowhere near what he could be. And he’s going to get faster, too. But I don’t think he’s done growing to be honest with you. So they’ll figure out a spot for him I’m sure.”
Schulte knew Nelson was special at an early age.
“I think a lot is natural ability, but he works hard, too,” Schulte said. “I remember him being in seventh grade at our Future Saints Football Camp and I coached the defensive ends here and he was in my group, and I remember at that time going, ‘Gosh dang, and he was big kid then compared to everybody else.’
“But I can just remember thinking the way this kid moves and the way he uses his hands, he was the package back then. And then he’s just gotten better and bigger every year.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football