"I work about three miles from my house, so I run to work three days a week," said Nelson, a 6-0, 211-pounder. "I time myself to see how long it takes to get from my house to work to make sure it takes less time. The first time it took 24 minutes; the last time I ran it was 18 minutes."
So, as Nelson heads out the door each morning, the statement "I gotta run" is meant to be taken literally, not figuratively.
Besides jogging to his job, the determined young linebacker is fine-tuning his body in other ways.
"I've been working vigorously four days per week in the weight room for about eight weeks, following the program they (Vol coaches) sent me in the mail," he said. "I've been training on my take-off and pulling 18-wheeler truck tires around the back of my school to build my leg strength up."
He's already seeing results from this rigorous regimen.
"I signed with Tennessee weighing about 200 pounds," he said. "Now I'm at 211. I haven't run the 40 since I signed but I ran a 4.5 when I signed, and I've been running a lot lately."
Although considered a bit of a sleeper when he signed with the Vols, Nelson believes he's a quality linebacker.
"My defensive coordinator at Stone Mountain, Kevin Gray, coached on the college level and has helped me a lot," Nelson said. "And my linebacker coach, Robert Sims, is like a second father to me. He's been wanting me to go to Tennessee. He played semi-pro ball and taught me everything he knows about linebacker. He says linebackers are born, not made, and I feel like I was born to play linebacker."
Nelson starred at middle linebacker in high school but says Vol coaches envision him stationed outside.
"I'll be playing weak side at Tennessee," he said. "I've gotten adjusted to it, as far as studying the playbook and watching some DVD breakdowns they sent me. I've been studying for it, and I'm ready to take on the challenge.
"All through high school and junior school I played middle linebacker because I was always one of the bigger guys. By playing weak side at Tennessee I won't have to put on a lot of weight. I'll be able to keep my weight and keep my speed."
Tennessee's coaches love Nelson's speed. No wonder. He ran the third leg on his school's 4x100 relay team that recently placed third in the state track meet.
Vol assistant head coach Ed Orgeron recently stopped by Stone Mountain to take another look at Nelson's speed and agility.
"Coach Orgeron came down to record one of my workouts," Nelson recalled. "He was down here recruiting and said he wanted to put me through some drills and see if I'd been working hard, then take the tape back to show the Tennessee coaches.
"After the workout was over, he loved it. He said I looked great. He said I didn't show any fatigue and that I showed good speed and flexibility."
In addition to stamina, speed and flexibility, Nelson exhibits tremendous passion on the football field. That's something one of his high school coaches really emphasized.
"I feel like I bring a sense of urgency," Nelson said. "Coach Sims tells us before every game to go out and have fun. He says fun means 'Fierce Urgency Now.' To me that means you don't think about the things you do naturally. Coach says there's a crease in every offense. He told me to find that crease, run through it and not just hold up the ball-carrier up but complete the tackle."
Bright and articulate, Nelson says he is fully qualified for college. In fact, he notes that he recently wrote an article on the subject that was published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"I've been academically eligible for a long time now," he said. "I have a 3.84 GPA, and my SAT score is up to NCAA requirements. I'm squared away with the Clearinghouse but I'm making sure I finish up strong academically."
To get a head start on college, Nelson said he plans to enroll for the first session of UT's summer school, beginning on June 1.
Although linebacker is one of Tennessee's shakiest positions, Nelson isn't focused on earning a first-team job. He's merely focused on getting enough playing time in 2009 to make him a better player in 2010.
"My goal for this season is just to get out there on the field and get acclimated," he said. "I don't want to go out there my sophomore year and still be making freshman mistakes. I want to get the freshman mistakes out of my system my freshman year, so I can be past that when I get to my sophomore year."
Scout.com recruiting analyst Chad Simmons believes Nelson, though a bit raw, has the tools to be a very good college linebacker.
"He is a strong kid that is a little stiff in the hips," Simmons says. "He needs to work on flexibility, but he is mainly a down hill guy that really attacks the football. Getting off blocks is not his biggest strength, but he likes to just run through them to get to the ball carriers.
"He does an excellent job of tackling through the opponent and making sure he puts them on their backs. He will need some time to learn the position on the next level, but he should be a contributor for the Vols in a couple of years."