'It's Nick City': Transfer cornerback Nick Nelson anchoring Wisconsin's secondary
After sitting out a season due to transfer regulations, Nick Nelson has transitioned seamlessly back to the field.Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger
In a few weeks, once winter strikes Madison, Nick Nelson will spend more time figuring out what he’s going to wear around campus than what he was previously used to. Two years ago, while Nelson attended the University of Hawaii, he went to late-fall and winter classes in basketball shorts and slides. But his decision to play football closer to his home in Glenarden, Maryland as well as in a bigger conference, has forced him to make a fashion adjustment: He now spends more time deciding what he’s going to wear out of the house.
But fashion choices aside, after spending the entirety of the 2016-’17 season sidelined due to NCAA transfer rules, Nelson has transitioned seamlessly to life at UW, as the redshirt junior cornerback continues to make the most of his on-field opportunity.
Nelson has been targeted 43 times this season, the most of any Badger cornerback. But according to Pro Football Focus, only 41.9 percent of Nelson’s targets have been caught by opposing receivers, the best of any Badger defensive back. Nelson is also the lone Badger corner to not miss a tackle this season. He additionally leads all Badger cornerbacks with 18 total tackles and he has more pass-breakups then Derrick Tindal and Dontye Carriere-Williams combined.
Nelson, however, is still adjusting to game speed.
“You take some time off and every once in awhile it takes a little bit to get back into game mode,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonard said. “I’m just excited for what he does the rest of the season. He approaches every day the right way, does everything we ask of him and really pushes himself, challenges himself.”
Nelson admits that at times last season it was difficult to stay focused on his preparation, and that he became increasingly frustrated with his inability to help his teammates during difficult stretches in UW’s season.
Every time the Badgers fell to an opponent, Nelson thought about the difference he could have made.
Yet the redshirt junior cornerback’s work in practice last year allowed him to develop different techniques. Nelson says he has improved his play at the line of scrimmage, learned more about receiver route running and fine-tuned his footwork and hand placement among other areas of development. He also adds that he’s gotten stronger and learned how to better use his physicality.
Watching Tindal also helped Nelson improve his level of play.
“He help me a lot cause he’s quicker,” Nelson said. “DT, the moves he do, you can’t really teach. I learned from that cause he’s a quicker guy, and he learn from me cause I’m a bigger guy.”
Tindal admits he has also learned from Nelson and that the two cornerbacks feed off of each other in the defensive backfield.
“If he likes something that I do, I’ll tell him how I do it. If I like something he doesn’t, he’ll tell me how he do it,” Tindal said. “If I make a play, it’s infectious. Same if he or Dontye make a play.”
On multiple occasions this season, Tindal has gotten the opportunity to posses the football on offense. Nelson, a former high school wide receiver as well as cornerback, though, has little interest in trying to catch a pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
Instead, the transfer from Hawaii is far more interested in running back a punt on special teams.
“I’m still trying to get one,” Nelson said. “But I’m gonna get one.”
And while Nelson had to sit out for entirety of last season, many of his teammates are impressed by how quickly he’s acclimated to the program.
“He fits in great,” redshirt junior safety D’Cota Dixon said. “It’s Nick City. That dude’s got swag.”
“He’s a dog,” Carriere-Williams, Nelson’s roommate, added. “He’s gonna get after you and when you line up in front of him you better bring your A-game, cause he’s gonna dominate you.”
Nelson has done just that as according to PFF, through seven weeks, Nelson has the six-highest grade among FBS cornerbacks. Nelson’s consistently produced on the field. And off of it, he’s helped form a more cohesive Badger defensive backfield.
He has no regrets about trading his slides and basketball shorts for a potential trip to the Big Ten Championship game.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter