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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Jesse Nelson, Concordia College
by Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist
Like many collegiate athletes, Jesse Nelson aspires to a career in coaching after he completes his undergraduate work. As is the case with many of his peers, Jesse is a talented athlete, a natural leader and is motivated to succeed in his career plans. However, the Concordia College quarterback has something few of his contemporaries have: coaching bloodlines. He will be the third generation of his family to coach, and those bloodlines spread wide in the Nelson family tree.
Jesse’s grandfather, Stan Nelson, was a legendary coach at Anoka High School for 25 years, and Jesse’s dad is widely respected as one of the top high school coaches in the state. “My dad went to UMD, where he was captain of the football and baseball teams,” stated Jesse. “My grandpa went to Augsburg, where he played football, baseball, and basketball. Grandpa’s brother, Edor, was the longtime football coach at Augsburg; their field is named after him. One of my brother-in-laws is an assistant coach for my dad at Minnetonka High, and one of my aunts is the track coach at Champlin High.”
Jesse has applied at several Division I and II schools for a position as a graduate assistant coach, starting next fall. “Working as a grad assistant will give me a feel for coaching at a larger program,” he said. “Depending how that goes, I may pursue a career at that level, or I might decide to coach at a smaller college or at the high school level. If I don’t get a job as a grad assistant, I will go into teaching, preferably at the high school level, and coaching there, too.”
His coach, Terry Horan, sees a great future for Jesse in coaching. “He’s been around football forever,” Horan said. “In all my years of coaching, I have never had a player that understands the game better than Jesse. I truly look forward to the day he is running his own program!”
Jesse grew up in Blaine, a northern suburb, where his dad was the high school football coach. In the summer before Jesse’s sophomore year of high school, his dad accepted the job as coach at Minnetonka High School, and the family moved to Chanhassen. Jesse has two older sisters, Sarah and Ashley. “They both were captain of their soccer team in high school and ran track,” he said. “Sarah played soccer for a year at St. Cloud State, too.”
As a ninth grader, Jesse played football, basketball and baseball on the freshman teams at Blaine. After the family moved, Jesse became part of the football program at Minnetonka. “I also played basketball my sophomore year, on the tenth grade team,” he said. After one season, he decided to forgo playing hoops.
He was the quarterback on the sophomore team as a tenth grader, and was behind center on the JV the following year. He took over the reins of the varsity team his senior year, and coolly steered the Skippers to the state championship in Class 5A. “We beat Wayzata in the championship game,” Jesse recalled. “It was a really great experience, winning the championship with my dad.”
Jesse was named All-Conference Honorable Mention that season, as well as All-State Honorable Mention. He also was selected to play in the annual All-Star Game, showcasing seniors from around the state. He was the starting quarterback for the Metro team. He was named Academic All-State for his senior year.
Off the field, Jesse was a member of the National Honor Society. He was also active in several mentoring programs at Minnetonka. “I was involved in a program where we worked with the ninth graders, helping them adjust to high school,” he said. “For two years, I was a mentor to two different kids from Minnetonka that needed a positive role model.”
With the football team, Jesse was active in several of volunteer programs, including a Can Drive for a local food shelf and spending time with the residents at a retirement center. He was also selected to be a member of the Minnetonka Honor Society. “That’s a group of students, selected by the faculty for their leadership that is involved in volunteer projects and leadership programs.”
He also taught Sunday school in his church for two years.
Because he did not play on the varsity until his senior year, Jesse was under the recruiting radar of most Division I and II schools. He drew attention from many Division III schools in the Upper Midwest. “I was recruited by many of the MIAC schools, but most of them wanted me to convert to a defensive back and I wasn’t interested in that option,” he said. “Concordia was the only school to recruit me as a quarterback. I visited in January, and met some of the players and the coaching staff. I felt it was a good fit for me. I knew the school was strong in academics. I knew it would take hard work to succeed here, but that it was a good program and going in the right direction.”
When he arrived at Concordia, the Cobbers were coming off one of their most successful seasons in recent years, having won the MIAC title and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs with a veteran backfield, including returning MIAC MVP Brian Schumacher at quarterback. Jesse was the holder for placekicks his freshman season and saw limited time at quarterback in eight games. Concordia posted a 10-2 overall record and finished second in the conference. They were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs. In the opening round of the playoffs, they knocked off Coe College 27-14, but lost to eventual national champ Linfield College 28-14.
In Jesse’s sophomore year, he shared the quarterback duties with senior Eric Rodel, who started the first three games before moving to receiver and handing the role over to Jesse. He led the team in total offense with 737 total offensive yards and was third on the team in rushing with 315 total net yards as the Cobbers slipped to 4-4 in MIAC play and 6-4 overall.
Last year, with Jesse at the helm for all 10 games, the Cobbers posted a 5-3 conference record and went 7-3 overall. Jesse was named to the All-MIAC Second Team as he ranked sixth in the league in rushing and seventh in passing and total offense.
This year, Jesse has led Concordia to a 3-1 overall start. They are 2-0 in MIAC play, with their wins coming over traditional powers Saint John’s and Bethel. Coach Horan gives much of the credit for Concordia’s success to Jesse. “He is one of the fiercest competitors we have had at the quarterback position,” Horan stated. “Our offense is in great hands with his experience, guidance, and leadership. Jesse is a student of the game. He knows what everyone is supposed to be doing on every play. He has an incredible personality; he loves life. Nothing really shakes him – it is all about his attitude.”
Jesse is majoring in both Physical Education and Health, sporting a 3.70 GPA. He is on track to graduate in May, and will complete his student teaching this spring, working the gamut from K-12. “If I don’t find a position as a graduate assistant coach, I will go into teaching, preferably at the high school level,” Jesse said.
Off the gridiron, Jesse has volunteered with Cobber Kids, a day care center on campus for the kids of the faculty and staff of Concordia. He was active in “Linking Up,” a program in Moorhead that connects students from Moorhead State and Concordia with are youth that have been identified as “at risk.” “They come from single-parent homes, or are having trouble in school or socially,” Jesse explained.
Jesse is also a volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Last year, he and several Cobber football players donated their time at a local middle school, where they ran a carnival for elementary students.
Since 2004, Jesse has worked as a coach at the Jeff Trickey Quarterback Camps. “It’s a good way to teach younger guys about football and leadership,” Jesse said. He has mainly worked at the camp in Minnetonka, but traveled to the camp in Las Vegas this past summer as well. He hopes to work both of those camps and the one in Arizona in 2009.
His Cobber teammates appreciate the hard work, leadership and passion for football that he brings to the team, and they know these qualities will help make him a success in life. “Jesse has many positive qualities that make him an excellent contributor on and off the field,” stated running back Cory Johnson. “He is a great teammate who would give anything for the guys next to him in the huddle. I have had the privilege to work with him for almost four years now and we have learned a lot from each other to make us both better. He is one of the most competitive people I know and lets his passion for the game make him a great leader on the field. He is looked up to by everyone on the field, and is looked to whenever for inspiration. He strives each day to make the players around him better that would in turn make the team the best that it can be. His work ethic and dedication shows every day and he will continue to use this to make him a great coach and teacher some day.”
No matter where his future takes him, Jesse will look favorably at his time at Concordia. “I’ve loved it here because of the people, the emphasis on extracurricular activities, faith and academics,” he said. “All of that together makes Concordia what it is- a special place. Everything Concordia is about is what I am all about.”
[The photos are used courtesy of the Concordia College Sports Information Office.]
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.
This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2008-2009″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.