BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
No, this isn’t some self-indulgent third-person exercise.
This is about Scott Nelson (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), the former Wisconsin free safety, a starter on the 1993 Big Ten championship team and in the Rose Bowl victory over UCLA, liking what he has seen out of Scott Nelson (6-2, 202), the current Badger free safety, and three-game starter as a redshirt freshman.
The 47-year-old Nelson, who wore No. 37 on his jersey and hails from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is not related to the 19-year-old Nelson, who wears No. 9, and is from Detroit, Michigan. It’s just that everybody else thinks that there must be a blood connection since they share the same names.
“I’ve had all sorts of questions from people asking, ‘Is that your kid?'” said Nelson-37, who has been helping coach football at Sun Prairie High School where his son is a wide receiver. The elder Nelson-37 is also a sideline reporter and analyst for the Badger Radio Network.
“People have been asking me since I got recruited here and I get tweets all the time asking if I’m related to him,” said Nelson-9 who’s aware that Nelson-37 dropped to a knee after the Badgers beat the Bruins in the Rose Bowl and proposed to his now-wife Becky on the hallowed turf in Pasadena.
“I haven’t met him yet,” said Nelson-9. “But we’ll definitely set that up soon.”
“I’d love to sit down with him,” said Nelson-37. “It would be fun to have that conversation.”
It was Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard who first brought up Nelson-9 to Nelson-37 while the Badgers were preparing to face Western Michigan in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. Nelson-37 worked the sidelines for that game, a 24-16 win in Arlington, Texas.
“Jimmy told me that they wanted another Scott Nelson,” he recalled.
His response was priceless, too.
“I told him, ‘I hope you can find someone better than that.'”
Leonhard then filled him in on Nelson-9, a highly-recruited defensive back at Detroit Jesuit High School. Since then, Nelson-37 has been closely following his development while conceding that he’s still getting used to having a namesake. “It’s strange hearing your name called,” Nelson-37 said.
But it has brought back many fond memories of his Wisconsin playing days. After redshirting as a freshman, he started games in each of his four seasons and finished with 323 tackles (16th best all-time), including 106 in 1990. He had 14 career interceptions, including five in 1993.
Who better to critique Nelson-9 than Nelson-37?
“I’ve been watching how he moves,” he said. “He’s poised for a young kid and he has real good size for a freshman. For a lot of young guys, they’ll see the quarterback (dropping back to pass) and their feet will stop. But the nice thing about him is that he keeps working his feet.
“I remember my first year starting as a redshirt freshman. And the first time you get out there, you’re excited and ready to go. But a lot happens in front of you. The best thing for him is that he’s got D’Cota Dixon with him. I had Greg Thomas and Troy Vincent, a couple of guys who had played a lot.”
What advice would Nelson-37 give Nelson-9 about Big Ten competition?
“Get ready because they’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger and it doesn’t get any easier,” he said. “But trust what you see. You’re out there for a reason. Jimmy Leonhard knows what you can do, and he trusts you.
“If you trust yourself, the other things will take care of themselves.”
Nelson-37 made his first career start at Iowa. Although he racked up 23 tackles (eighth best in school history), picked off a pass and was named the defensive MVP against the Hawkeyes, the first thing that he remembered from that game was all his collisions with 6-4, 255-pound tailback Nick Bell.
“I didn’t wake up feeling good the next day,” he admitted. “I couldn’t get off the couch.”
That’s where he will be Saturday night — on his couch — watching Nelson-9.
“I really like the kid,” he said.
• • • •
The younger Nelson took only two official recruiting visits. One was to Wisconsin. The other was to Iowa. His campus host was offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, a Detroit native. Nelson was in Kinnick Stadium when the Hawkeyes upset previously unbeaten (9-0) and No. 3-ranked Michigan in 2016.
“It was an exciting, great college football atmosphere,” said Nelson. “I’ve got a few really good friends from high school (at Iowa); and some guys that I was recruited with and got to know. When I was being recruited by them (Hawkeyes), everybody was loving me then. It will be a little different now.”
After last Saturday’s loss, Nelson went to dinner with his parents and brother. He then took another look at the BYU video. “You want that sting, that hurt to stay with you,” he said, “because it’s going to motivate you. Obviously, you don’t want it to happen. But it did and you have to learn from it.”
Nelson subscribes to the sports adage, “You can learn more from a loss than a win.”
“If you win, it’s a good feeling and you kind of move on,” he explained. “Whereas, if it’s a loss, it does sting more. I know that I watch more film after the losses than the wins just because I want to know, ‘What did I do wrong? How can I get better from this?’ I take pride in getting better from losses.”
It’s rivalry week. #OnWisconsin
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 17, 2018
Nelson has been one of the first-year starters on defense, along with cornerbacks Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams and defensive ends Kayden Lyles and Matt Henningsen. On Monday, UW coach Paul Chryst was asked about Lyles’ progress and his response essentially applied to each of the newbies.
“It’s not like he has played against the same three teams,” Chryst said of Lyles. “If all the same things happened you could truly say he did this versus this block in this game and then he did it a little bit better with the same block (in the next game). But you’re tested each week differently.”
Nelson has discovered that there are some things, constants, that don’t change from opponent to opponent at this level. “Nothing is given to you,” he said. “They don’t care who you are, or how old you are. The other team is going to come out and play and they’re going to do their best to beat you.”
Since the Western Kentucky opener, Nelson said, “I’ve definitely calmed down. That first game I was going 100 miles an hour. I’ve settled in, and I’ve gotten more comfortable. But I’ve got to clean up my tackling and finishing plays and getting to the ball. Those are areas I want to improve on.”
Nelson has a good idea of what awaits him Saturday night. And it really applies to every game. “After that first play, that first drive,” he noted, “you calm down, settle in, and you’re just playing ball.”
Scott Nelson couldn’t have said it better. The other Nellie.