Quarterback Jack Nelson sets program records, attracts NFL

Allison Mueller

Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan

Photo of Jack Nelson from Winona State Athletics.
Photo of Jack Nelson from Winona State Athletics.

A mere two minutes into Saturday’s game against Augustana University, senior quarterback Jack Nelson threw his 100th passing touchdown. This is just one more milestone for Nelson’s illustrious career, which may end up taking him to the NFL.

According to Nelson, over the past few months, more than 20 NFL teams have met with him and discussed the potential for a professional career. That comes out of his multiple accomplishments, including holding nearly every record at Winona State University and being only 70 yards away from becoming the NSIC’s all-time leading passer.

If he manages to break that record, Nelson will only need seven more yards to become the leading passer of any quarterback at a Minnesota-based NCAA school.

Currently, he holds the records for most 300-yard passing games, passing yardage, touchdowns, attempts and completions. He has also received the 2013 NSIC Offensive Newcomer of the Year award and the 2015 NSIC Honorable Mention.

“They’re not really just my records, I’m kind of the name that gets put on them,” Nelson said. “I need receivers to catch the ball, running backs to catch the ball, linemen to block and everything. It’s more a team record.”

Nelson is a bit of an outlier in the football environment. He is known not for his brashness or attitude, but for his relaxed nature and focus on his team.

Position coach Cameron Keller has been coaching him since the beginning, and said that he has always been quiet, calm and levelheaded. Regarding Nelson’s accomplishments, Keller said Nelson always takes the humble road and points to the team as the real winners.

“All the NFL scouts that have been in, everybody asks him about his records,” Keller said. “And usually the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, ‘You know, I really don’t see those as my records, I see those as team records.’”

Nelson is a soft-spoken individual, both on and off the field. According to head coach Tom Sawyer, he has been the same way for as long as they have worked together. He said that even though some players can be abrasive and loud, Nelson is anything but, focusing more on improving himself and the team.

“He’s very internally competitive, quietly competitive. He’s not a ‘rah-rah’ type of a guy,” Sawyer said. “He’s never gotten in trouble, he kind of lays low… He’s the same way on the field as he is off the field.”

More than 20 NFL teams have met with Winona State’s senior quarterback Jack Nelson. Nelson holds nearly every record at Winona State and is only 70 yards away from becoming the NSIC’s all-time leading passer. (Photo contributed by Gerilynne Wood)
More than 20 NFL teams have met with Winona State’s senior quarterback Jack Nelson. Nelson holds nearly every record at Winona State and is only 70 yards away from becoming the NSIC’s all-time leading passer. (Photo contributed by Gerilynne Wood)

As the elected team captain, Sawyer added, this is part of what makes Nelson such a great leader. Sawyer said that this temperament helps with connecting with teams, and should serve him well in the professional arena. When he speaks, the team listens.

“When you have a leader like that, that’s that high level of talent, but also the kind of calm and cool that he is, people are attracted to that,” Sawyer said. “When Jack finally says something, he says it because he needs to and he says it because it’s needed to be said.”

According to Sawyer, the NFL interest began last spring, when various recruiters were in town looking at another prospective player. Teams from as far away as Tampa have come to see Nelson, with hopes that he might become one of their newest members.

“I’ve met with about 23 teams, and it’s an opportunity I’m hoping to take after my season is over,” Nelson said.

Nelson has not always been a phenomenal player. According to Sawyer, when he arrived, he was just a kid with a really good arm.

“He came in as a young guy with a big arm, and now he’s a good quarterback. And there’s a big difference,” Sawyer said. “The difference is in understanding the game, understanding the workload that it takes to play at that level [and] being able to overcome mistakes.”

Sawyer and Keller went together on a scouting mission to Byron High School and watched Nelson play in a basketball game. Here, Keller said, the two saw Nelson’s potential as a multifaceted athlete with talent, and said they had to have him.

Nelson started playing football in elementary school. According to him, it was the basic tenants of the game, which began his interest in participating.

“I started playing football in fourth grade, and I’ve played ever since,” Nelson said. “My senior year I just fell in love with it, fell in love with the team camaraderie stuff. I like the physical content too and that kind of thing. I’ve always just loved football, I guess.”

Keller added that he saw potential in Nelson, which is why he and Sawyer decided to train him as hard as they did. Over the years, Nelson has developed from an ambitious athlete into a well-rounded powerhouse.

In fact, he has now become a staple in the pre-game prep discussions.

Photo contributed by Gerilynne Wood.
Photo contributed by Gerilynne Wood.

“He comes in earlier in the week, when we’re doing our game planning with the offensive staff. He’ll sit in and go through what we’re doing with the whole game, both run and pass,” Keller said. “He’s really the only quarterback I have that studies all of it.”

The NFL interest is well earned, Sawyer said. It is not just that Nelson is a good player, but he is also well versed in all aspects of the game instead of just sheer athletic talent.

“He’s got the right style, the right arm, the right temperament, and he’s smart as a football player,” Sawyer said. “He can manipulate defenses and do those things, and that’s what they’re looking for.”

Yet, all of this positive press around Nelson has by no means gone to his head. He is still looking forward to finishing strong this season before focusing on what is to possibly come with the NFL. While Saturday’s game ended any possibility of a postseason run, Nelson said he wants to finish the season strong with the seniors and make the most of his remaining time as a Warrior.

-By Nathaniel Nelson