3 footballs grouped together on the field before the game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson.

Carter Nelson Is Latest in Line of Nebraska 8-Man Football Prospects

October 22, 2022

This year’s Ainsworth team won its first playoff game in school history on Thursday. Yet another pioneering accomplishment by this Bulldogs team that keeps shattering school norms.

The wins kept coming. They started 7-0 for the first time in school history. Then 8-0 and a district championship. Then a 64-20 win over Loomis in the first round of the Class D2 playoffs and the jumping jacks that followed in their own end zone. In the center of that post-game end zone circle was junior Carter Nelson. He’s gotten used to being the center of attention around town.

Nelson already received scholarship offers from Kansas State and Iowa State when former Husker head coach Scott Frost extended an offer to the 8-man standout this summer. It’s the first time since Andrew Shanle of St. Edward in 2002 that Nebraska offered an in-state 8-man player (Seth Malcolm, an 8-man linebacker from Iowa, signed in 2021).

“I’m really blessed and honored to be recruited because the big worry was about if I was going to get looks out here,” Nelson told Hail Varsity recently, “but I’ve got a really good coaching staff and they’ve helped me get out there to a couple of different things and they’ve helped me to exceed my football skills to where I’m at that level and they’re just going to help me grow off of it.”

Make no mistake, Nelson’s prioritized Ainsworth. He takes time for college coaches as long as they don’t interfere with his obligations to the Bulldogs. It’s sometimes tricky but something he admitted he’ll look back on fondly, especially after Ainsworth hosts Elm Creek in the second round on Friday, Oct. 28. His dedication to Ainsworth and various camps paid dividends in his development. On one of the first plays of the year, against North Central, he squared up on a defender and drove.

“I blocked a dude all the way down field while my quarterback ran behind me and scored a touchdown,” Nelson said. “So that’s a good memory.”

He felt a tonal change in the locker room with this year’s team. Nelson and teammates visited various camps throughout the offseason to push themselves. Those trips empowered the Bulldogs and expanded the junior’s abilities. Ainsworth head coach Jessi Owen remembered sitting down with Nelson to watch film on the Kenesaw state championship win last year and keyed-in on Tyson Denkert, now at Midland University. Denkert took over that game. Owen asked Nelson what was stopping him from doing that?

“From there he’s really come into his own and he’s figuring out his body and what he can and can’t do,” Owen said, adding that 11-man camps help Nelson’s development as a ball player beyond 8-man.

Those developments are evident. So far this season he’s gained 1,949 total yards (761 rushing, 663 passing, 525 receiving) through nine games. That includes Thursday’s quarterfinal win, where he scored four touchdowns. On defense he has 41 tackles and six interceptions. It hasn’t always been dominance either. The Bulldogs trailed 36-14 to perennial power Elgin/Pope John before a second-half comeback sparked victory.

Colleges noticed. Nelson holds 11 scholarship offers, including those from Iowa State, Penn State, Duke, Kansas, Minnesota, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt in addition to Nebraska. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound athlete is now the No. 2-ranked prospect in the state of Nebraska’s recruiting class of 2024. This opened a world of football to him that isn’t afforded to many 8-man football players.

“Being able to see the different environments for football and how much, honestly, everywhere cares about football as much as we do,” Nelson said of the new experiences visiting schools. “It’s been fun.”

Nebraska’s relationship with 8-man football dates back multiple decades. It solidified with a kid from Sterling named Dean Steinkuhler who became a football legend. Wausa native Lance Lundberg became a team captain and played in three Orange Bowls (including the 1993 National Championship). Josh Cobb of Wallace was a multi-letter winner on Nebraska’s title teams of the 1990s. Billy Legate of Clearwater was a special teams bruiser for those teams. East Butler standouts Jeff and Joel Makovicka both made a name for themselves as Huskers in the 1990s. Scott and Andrew Shanle made their respective stamps on the Blackshirts defense before Scott won a Super Bowl.

Successors to that legacy wavered in the decades since. Clay Center standout Bryson Studnicka chose a scholarship to Wyoming instead and played two years as a linebacker before a senior year at running back for the Cowboys. Drew Ott of Giltner played defensive end at Iowa, where he laid the groundwork for a jump to the NFL before injuries cut his career short.

Nelson’s become Nebraska’s latest 8-man prospect. Schools from across the country have noticed.

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