"How many big, fast guys should I sign?" Harbaugh retorted at the time.
One of those tight ends became an All-American, two of those tight ends were Stanford's first picks in last month's NFL Draft, one transferred positions and is Stanford's starting fullback, and one transferred schools and developed into an All-Conference talent at Baylor.
Guess that Harbaugh guy knows something about football.
And guess it's time for Stanford to refill the jumbo pipeline.
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"It's just been kind of hectic after getting big-time offers, but I've kept it pretty manageable," Nelson said. "I'm just thinking about the big picture and not letting it all get to me. Getting a scholarship, getting to college and continuing my education: that's what a scholarship is for."
With Morgan Turner the lead recruiter, Stanford found Nelson's film, liked what they saw, and reached out to offer. In Nelson's words, it all went from there, as he reports most of his offers came less than a week after Stanford took the plunge.
Now, 247Sports' composite ratings, an average of Scout and other major services, have Nelson just outside the top-300 overall, the No. 10 tight end in the nation, and Iowa's No. 3 player (behind fellow Stanford targets OL Ross Pierschbacher and WR Allen Lazard). In-state Iowa and Iowa State have offered, as have Notre Dame, Nebraska and Arkansas, among others. Not bad for a kid holding only a San Diego State offer before the Cardinal picked up the phone.
"I was kind of shocked [when Stanford called to offer], but after I got to know them, they were great people and that helped to further my relationship with them," Nelson said.
"I know Stanford is a great academic school as well as a great football school. I don't know the details as I haven't been out there, but I plan to do that in June, for the Junior Day and camp."
Though tight ends coach Turner is Stanford's lead recruiter here, the Cardinal wants Nelson at OLB for now, he reports.
"My recruitment is across the board, DE, tight end, OLB, all sorts of things," he said. "Some schools just say ‘football player,' and that they want football players."
Nelson says that Stanford's projected position for him could change as his body fills out. He added, however, that he doesn't care where he plays, as long as he does play.
"Distance doesn't matter to me too much," he said. "I'm looking for academics. I'm also looking at whether or not I can play relatively soon; I hate sitting on the sideline.
"I'm looking at how coaches interact with the players and what feels most comfortable to me. If you don't like the coaches, you're not going to like the school."
Nelson elaborated upon his statement on early playing time, saying that he's willing to compete for it and that he understands he might not hit the field the moment he enters college. But he's hoping he first cracks the rotation as a redshirt sophomore, not a redshirt senior.
Any plan to puncture a two-deep will rely on Nelson's body mechanics, which he describes as his greatest strengths. Leverage is everything in football, and despite his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame, Nelson reports that he plays low to the ground.
"All the coaches have told me that they see a big frame that moves really well, really bends at the knees, and they see a lot of potential in that."
Nelson says he's focusing this offseason on improving his strength and speed. He says he's lifting daily, and is cleaning 290 pounds as a result of that effort.
"Last year, we [Cedar Rapids' Xavier HS] lost in state championship," he said. "We've always had undersized kids, so I live by that [ethic] of outworking everybody.
"You can never be too big and too fast."
Somewhere, Jim Harbaugh is smiling.
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Almost as rare as a 290-pound clean is Nelson's 31 ACT score, a 97th-percentile effort. Immersed in a high school curriculum heavy on science and math classes, Nelson hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon post-football.
"That's always interested me, ever since I took biology and anatomy," Nelson said of orthopedic surgery. "It just fascinates me to no end."
Nelson had his junior year prom Saturday night, and has his senior year of football forthcoming. Sometime in between those two high school rites of passage, Nelson hopes to settle upon a college destination.
"It's going to be tough, to sit down and really think about everything," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get it done before football season to get that out of the way."
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