From a father's perspective

Craig Nelson, father of Notre Dame offensive line signee Quenton Nelson, provides insight into his son's love affair with the game of football, including how it all began, and how he knew Notre Dame was the right fit for him.

Question: How did Quenton first start getting into the game of football?

Craig Nelson: "Quenton's older brother, Connor, was a football player. For six years, I coached his group. They were a talented group of kids and we did very well. Once in a while, I would shoot Quenton out there to play. When he was about eight, he just got run over by this kid we called ‘Freight Train.' He would watch film with us, too. So, Quenton was around football at a very young age.

Quenton had to actually lose 20 pounds in order to play in the age group up. There was no way he was going to lose enough to play in his own age group. During summertime, all of Quenton's cousins would come over, and between Maryellen and I, we have 39 nieces and nephews, and they would be eating ice cream and whatever they wanted, and poor Q would be eating salads so he could lose enough weight to play football. He really wanted to play, and that was the only way that he could do it.

Well, the first year he played, the coaches didn't think he could lose that weight, so they never played him. The next season, I was done with Connor's group, so I coached Quenton. He was nine-years old, still playing with 10- and 11-year olds. Quenton did very well out of the gate. He played middle linebacker just like his brother, and on offense, he played guard."

Question: Was Notre Dame his favorite school from the onset?

Craig Nelson: "No, it wasn't. He had 31 offers (by the beginning of March 2013), but Notre Dame had not offered him. Bob Diaco had been by a couple of times, but that was about it. The only reason we visited Notre Dame that spring is because we went to visit Northwestern, and South Bend was only an hour and half away.

When he visited Notre Dame (in early April), he didn't have an offer. But, he had a great day with the coaches. He got in some film work with the staff near the end of the day. Coach Hiestand told him, ‘Only Coach Kelly can offer you, but I think you are going to be very happy.' And, that's when he got the offer.

He got to see spring practice and he saw how Coach Hiestand coached. He loved the way that he taught. He got to stay with Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and they had a profound effect on him. Steve's father, who's the nicest guy you'd ever want to met, called me after the visit, too. So, Quenton had a great experience. It felt like a fit, he knew those were the kids he wanted to be around on the team, and he loved campus.

What concerned him was the depth chart. He was aware that Notre Dame had a lot of guys ahead of him, and they were pretty stacked. That was his biggest hesitancy. Boston College didn't take any linemen in 2012, and Penn State, with their sanctions, they had depth issues. So, Quenton would probably play early at either one of those places. You know, kids want to play at the end of the day. For a lot of kids, it's about depth and distance.

Well, distance didn't work in favor of Notre Dame, either. He's about four hours from both Penn State and Boston College. He was really leaning towards those two schools at the time."

Question: What was the tipping point in Notre Dame's favor?

Craig Nelson: "The last weekend in April, he went to the Northeast Rivals camp and did very well. He won MVP. After camp, he went to Rutgers for their spring game, and it happened to seem like 90 degrees there, and he got burnt to a crisp. And, there was a Nike camp the next day, and he had intentions to go, but we didn't think there was any way he'd make it. When he got home from Rutgers, he jumped in the freezing pool. Sure enough, at 6:30 a.m. the next day, he came into our room and said let's go. He won MVP of that camp as well. So, his confidence started soaring, and he realized he could compete with those guys at Notre Dame.

To keep preparing, he sought the direction of [NFL player] Rob Petitti, who helped him with his drop-back pass protection. Quenton was pretty raw at that since Red Bank Catholic doesn't pass the ball. If they do it three or four times a game, that's a lot. He also worked with Penn State commit (and teammate at Red Bank) defensive lineman Garrett Sickels, who was a year older. At first, he beat the hell out of Q. But, a couple weeks later, Q came back and said it was more like 50/50, and then by the end, Q said he was shutting him down."

Question: And, his commitment to Notre Dame, how did that come about?

Craig Nelson: "Well, the first of May, I came home from work, and Quenton was all dressed in Notre Dame stuff. Notre Dame was the only school we visited that spring where he wanted to go into the bookstore and buy clothes. Well, he gave us a 20-minute dissertation that night about why Notre Dame was the place for him. Coach Kelly was scheduled to call that night. And, I didn't think Q should commit just yet. I loved Notre Dame, but it was only May, and once you commit, that's it.

Before Coach Kelly called that night, Quenton hadn't spent much time with him. Probably 30 minutes total. On all of the other visits, he had spent a lot of time with the head coach. Urban Meyer spent hours with him, as did [Boston College head coach] (Steve) Addazio. They were very touchy-feely, Coach Meyer would put his arms around Q when they talked. But, Coach Kelly was strictly business, so there was some hesitation there for Q.

But, when he called, he spoke to Q about two things. One, he told him he had been spending the last two weeks talking to NFL teams and getting his guys in the best position for the NFL draft. Then, he said, Quenton, you have until Feb. 4, 2014 to decide if you want to come to Notre Dame. Then, Quenton realized, Notre Dame does really want me. They're leaving a spot open for me that long.

Kelly asked Quenton if he had any questions, and then he asked Q, what else do I need to tell you to get you to come to Notre Dame?

Quenton said he just needed more time. Well, typical Q. He goes into the kitchen and makes a glass of juice. Then, he hits re-dial, and says this is Quenton. Coach Kelly says, ‘Is everything alright?' And Quenton says, ‘I'd like to commit to Notre Dame.'"

Question: Can you give us some more insight into what Quenton's like off the field?

Craig Nelson: "He's a real teddy bear. He's a practical joker, and he loves life. He's a real group leader at FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). He's the youngest of the family, so he's tremendous with kids. He's really driven. And, I'll tell you, he has tons of friends." Top Stories