A Fatherly Impact

Vernon Gholston has made it to the NFL Draft thanks to a reputation for being one of the biggest and strongest players in the entire country. His physical stature comes in contrast to that of his father, the late Vernon Nelson, who had a major impact on his son's life in a short time.

If Vernon Gholston seems a little more composed than he should for his age, there is a reason.

As the reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year prepares for Saturday's NFL Draft, the former Ohio State defensive end who made a living terrorizing opposing quarterbacks stands to earn millions of dollars when his name is called early in the draft. With it, Gholston and his family will have the chance to be financially set for the rest of their lives, a reward for years of hard work and sacrifice.

Standing 6-4, 258, Gholston has biceps that make him look as if he could rip a phone book in half without breaking a sweat. He will be accompanied in New York City by his family, but one member will not be present – and he would paint a considerable contrast to the former Buckeye if he were able to be.

Vernon Nelson, Gholston's father, passed away when the football player was a teenager. After being diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in 1993, Nelson's health and stature slowly deteriorated until he passed away six years later just before the turn of the century. Gholston was 13.

As long as he could remember, Gholston said his father had been suffering the effects of the disease, which attacks the body's central nervous system and breaks down a person's ability to function physically. There were balance problems and other symptoms that progressively got worse as time passed.

But even as Nelson was battling what would ultimately be a losing battle, his son was growing in size. Weightlifting was an out-of-school activity that gave Gholston something to do aside from sitting home all day.

"It was more out of a need to be doing something at all times," he said. "I was just going to school. I really wasn't involved in any after-school activities, so that was an activity – going to lift and bettering my shape and my conditioning."

Even at a young age, the progress Gholston was making in the weight room was visible. According to his mother, Cheryl Gholston, the strength he was gaining was almost inversely proportional to that his father was losing.

"I guess it was more or less a little heartbreaking for (Vernon and his brother, Brandon) because you could see the deterioration in the body, the going from a father that was carrying you around on his back to after a while Vernon was carrying him," she said. "Once Vernon started to grow and got some muscles, he was picking him up out of the chair and putting him on the bed.

"I guess he was more or less glad that he was able to do those types of things for him, but to see him go from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair was tough."

The end result was the physical specimen that is Gholston now. Although he denies the idea that seeing his father being betrayed by his own body had any role to play in his desire to lift weights, it was a piece of advice his father gave him that inspired him to continue to excel in the weight room.

"He used to tell me to be the best that I can," Gholston said. "That mentally stuck with me for a long time. It was part of something I had in myself. I always wanted to be the best. I'm very detail oriented. I pay attention to everything and try to improve on every aspect. If anything, him telling me to be the best stuck with me."

At the time, football was not even on Gholston's radar. It would not appear until high school, when the head coach at Detroit Cass Tech saw him in the hallway, mistook him for someone's father and promptly signed him up to join the team.

As a child, it was simply time spent in the weight room without a goal of improving on any sort of practice field. The discipline necessary for such an outlook is not common in a teenager, much less a pre-teen, but it was no big surprise to Gholston's mother.

While Cheryl worked, Vernon would look after his younger brother. Any attempts to hire a babysitter were quickly vetoed by Vernon, who would fire them, she said. Although Nelson lived in Pontiac, the family would take frequent trips to see him.

Nelson never lived to see his 50th birthday.

"He used to say you should always try to be your best – even if you're a bum, be the best bum that you can be," Gholston said. "That really stuck with me."

Little is understood about how multiple sclerosis is contracted, but it is believed that genetics do play a role. Prior to his junior season at OSU, Gholston said he would like to aid in the fight to find a cure. Now, with a lucrative payday on hand, he is still planning to do so.

"Oh yeah, definitely," he said following OSU's pro day March 7. "I'm already thinking about what I want to do."

And while his father will not physically be able to be with him on draft day, both Gholston and his mother said they know he would be proud of what his son has made of himself.

"He would just smile, probably," Gholston said. "Of course, he never got a chance to see me play football. One of the biggest things I wish he could have seen, but I know he's looking down on me.

"I can imagine him smiling looking at me."


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