Steven Nelson traveled across the country to fulfill his dream, and he is doing his best to seize the opportunity.
Nelson, who is from Warner Robins, Ga., was brought in this spring by the Oregon State football team to compete for a starting cornerback job and return punts.
There were a few detours along the way, but he’s settled in with his teammates during spring practice. Coach Mike Riley is impressed with how Nelson assimilated so quickly as a junior college transfer from the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif.
“He looks like a very athletic, natural player,” Riley said. “He’s a hard worker, gym rat. I like all those things about him.”
Nelson has been running with the second string the first two weeks of spring practice behind senior Sean Martin. The two are in a competition for the starting job in the fall.
“It’s very exciting right now,” Nelson said. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to my whole life. I’m not nervous at all. I’m ready to step up to the plate and fill those shoes. I knew I wasn’t going to jump right in. I knew they were going to test me out and see how I react to certain situations. It’s what I expected, to come in after senior Sean Martin.”
Nelson was a standout at Northside High with several scholarship offers, including from SEC schools such as Florida, Kentucky and Georgia.
He committed to Georgia originally, but didn’t qualify academically.
That led to Plan B. Nelson attended a junior college to work on his grades and refine his game.
Nelson’s cousin, K.J. Morton who now plays safety for Baylor, attended the College of the Sequoias and recommended the program to him.
“I wasn’t worried about going across the country,” Nelson said. “Growing up I wanted to be my own man. I needed to get away and grow up real fast. Staying around (home) wouldn’t get me anywhere. I knew a lot of guys not doing anything. So it worked out for the best.”
Nelson made a name for himself in two years. He registered 71 tackles, 19 pass breakups and six interceptions.
247 Sports rated him as a four-star athlete and second-best junior college cornerback in the nation.
“I just worked hard, every day,” Nelson said. “I focused on my football work, drills, weight room and tried to get better.”
Secondary coach Rod Perry was impressed with what he saw in Nelson during the recruiting process. Perry needed to find a replacement for Jordan Poyer, a shut-down corner and punt returner.
Nelson, a 5-foot-10, 191-pounder with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, just happened to be a similar player with the same skill set.
“Steven is a big guy who can run,” Perry said. “He has return ability as well. We are very fortunate to get him.”
Nelson had a breakout year as a senior at Northside as a punt returner with five returns for touchdowns. He had another one last season.
“My strength as a returner is being shifty, I can make guys miss,” Nelson said. “I’m a 4.4 guy, but I have a burst in me. I’ve always been able to make guys miss.”
Nelson’s biggest learning curve now is the defensive coverages since the Beavers have a thick playbook that calls for adjustments on the fly. Nelson must understand offenses and how the OSU defense adjusts to stop opponents.
He enrolled at OSU over the winter and started to learn the schemes. Nelson feels with every practice rep the concepts become clearer.
By the time fall arrives, Nelson believes he’ll be ready for games and play a significant role in the secondary and special teams.
“I’m physically ready in speed and strength,” Nelson said. “It’s mainly the mental part. Even though I’m not where I want to be, I can play with these guys now. Once I get in a good mental state I’ll be fine.”