"This is a decision that affects your whole life," says Roy Nelson, who played college football at Texas before finishing his playing career at Texas-Arlington. "Where you go to school and what you plan to do with the education you get at that school --- not to mention the football program if you are a football player --- has a direct effect on your future."
"I can't see that a 17 or 18-year-old kid is mature enough to make that decision alone. I'm involved very much in David's decision-making process. I'm not going to tell him what to do, but I'm definitely going to be a part of the process because I'm able to see things from a point of view that he doesn't. When he's 21 years old and he has his college degree and he's ready to move out from under my roof, then he can make any choice he wants without talking it over, but until then, decisions of this importance are made jointly."
The recruitment of David Nelson, therefore, is a partnership. Whoever signs the 6-6, 197-pound wide receiver out of Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider has to understand that if dad's not impressed, then nobody's going to be impressed. There are a lot of schools trying to impress the Nelson's. He's already visited Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Iowa. Florida and Texas will get the last two visits.
"We're trying to work it out that I can visit Florida before the Army All-America Game in San Antonio," said David, who caught 141 passes for 2720 yards and 32 touchdowns in his final two seasons of high school football. "If I can come into Florida on January 7 and then fly to San Antonio, that would work best, but if we can't arrange it I'll be at Florida January 28 or 29."
His will visit Texas, January 21.
David was a commitment to Notre Dame prior to the dismissal of Coach Ty Willingham. He's had several conversations with Charlie Weis, the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots who has been chosen to succeed Willingham and he remains a "soft commit" to the Irish, but the doors have been opened up to at least investigate some other schools, one of which is the University of Florida.
"I was really in a state of shock about Notre Dame because of Coach Willingham," said David. "I've talked to Coach Weis and I think he's a good guy, but my eyes have been opened and I have to take a look at other schools to decide what's best for me."
The decision to commit to Notre Dame was not one that was arrived at hastily. During the summer, David and his dad spent their free time driving to different college campuses to make first impressions that would help narrow their list of interests. They took the official visit to Notre Dame in the fall, leaving South Bend impressed with the full scope of athletics, academics and the support system in place.
The Irish finished the season at 6-5, earning a trip to the Insight.com Bowl game in Phoenix. It wasn't the season Notre Dame expected but it was marked improvement after the 2003 season, so decision to fire Willingham came as a shock to David and his father.
"We were kind of disappointed with what happened at Notre Dame and how they went about getting to the decision they made," said Roy Nelson. "We decided that we had to look at other options and we decided to see who the new coach is going to be and if Notre Dame is still going to be an option.
"We're still comfortable that Notre Dame is okay, but we are going to look at a couple of more options --- Texas and Florida. It will have to be something spectacular to change from Notre Dame but we'll listen and we'll look and then we'll decide."
When he was recruited to Notre Dame, Coach Greg Mattison was the Irish coach who made the contact with the Nelsons. When Willingham was fired, Mattison accepted a position as co-defensive coordinator at Florida on Coach Urban Meyer's staff. Mattison is also the father of Iowa Hawkeye defensive lineman Bryan Mattison.
What Mattison did next helped to make Florida a viable option.
"He (Mattison) did call when he was allowed to call to tell us he would be moving to Florida," said Roy Nelson. "Then he surprised us by telling us that he didn't think it's fair to Notre Dame or to us if he continued to recruit David for Florida and he went out of his way to tell us all the good things about Notre Dame and why it would still be a good fit. I thought, wow, this man's got integrity."
Florida did call but it wasn't Mattison calling. It was Billy Gonzales, the wide receivers coach who is joining the Gator staff from Utah. He's coached the past two seasons with Meyer at Utah, and two previous years with Meyer on the Bowling Green staff. The experience with Gonzales was so positive that Roy and David began looking seriously at the Gators and in particular, at Meyer.
"He (Meyer) is a class act," said Roy Nelson. "In everything he does, on the field and off the field, from what we have seen, he is a man of great integrity. He opened our eyes to Florida and now we're going to take a serious look."
Meyer and David have talked on the telephone although they won't meet in person until after Meyer is permanently moved to Florida (he coaches Utah in the Fiesta Bowl, January 2). The telephone conversations, David says, are revealing, telling him a lot about the new Florida football coach.
"Basically we only talk about how school is going and how's life and those sort of things," said David. "Football is only a small part of the conversation. I already know that as a coach he is a winner on the field, and he's seen my tape, so he knows I'm a pretty good football player. So we talk about things that are important that don't involve football.
"I think he is a coach who is very involved in the life of his players, and I think he's the kind of coach who will always want what's best for the guys on his team. In that respect, I'd have to say he's a lot like Coach (Scott) Ponder."
Ponder is the only head football coach that Nelson has ever had. Nelson played for Ponder at tiny Petrolia, Texas, a 1A school where Nelson started on the varsity as an eighth grader. When he was a sophomore, Nelson and Ponder led Petrolia to the Texas 1A championship. Nelson's dad got a job change that moved the family to Wichita Falls at the same time that Ponder took the job coaching at Rider. So the football partnership continued.
"Coach Ponder is the reason I want to one day be a college football coach," said David. "Everything I have in football is because he's taken an interest in me, but it's not like football's all he's interested in with me. He's as interested in what I do off the field as he is with what I do on the field. That's the kind of coach I want to be someday."
A 3.9 student in the classroom, he plans to major in sports management or sports psychology. Ultimately, he hopes he would get a chance to see if he could compete at the next level (NFL) after finishing up college, but already there is a plan in place for life that involves an advanced degree and serving as a graduate assistant so he can begin to learn the coaching ropes.
Now, at Christmas, he's enjoying the time away from school but already he's thinking about what's in store for him in January. He knows the decision that he will make is the most important of his life, so he's talking things over with his mother and dad, getting himself prepared for what will be a whirlwind six weeks before signing day.
"I feel lucky because my dad's already been there and knows exactly what to look for," said David. "I look for the kind of things that any typical kid looks for, but my dad, now he sees things a whole lot differently. He helps me focus in on not just what's happening now but what will happen in the future.
"We've got a big choice to make but I know whatever decision is made, we'll make the right one together."
Based on what we are hearing, the Hawkeyes are still a player in the race for Nelson. He will get a chance to work out with and catch some passes from Jake Christensen at the U.S. Army All Star game the week of January 9th.