Garrett Nelson’s inclusion on Nebraska’s Big Ten Media Days contingent was among the least surprising developments from this offseason.
The homegrown Husker from the Panhandle has made steady progress throughout his career, earning his way onto the field as a true freshman, cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore and becoming the team’s best pass rusher in year three.
Now he’s set to shoulder the burden of leadership as an upperclassmen, and his head coach spoke highly of him at Big Ten Media Days.
“On the best teams, issues on the team don’t even make it to the coaching staff,” Scott Frost told reporters in Indianapolis. “They get handled in the locker room. And Travis [Vokolek] has done a good job, Q [Newsome] has done a good job, Garrett Nelson is probably the best leader we’ve had at Nebraska in a long time. So they’re doing a good job managing the team and policing things from downstairs, and that accountability matters. There’s one standard and we’ve got to continually meet that standard and the players know that.”
Nelson said he has a lot of respect for Frost’s career and experience and loves hearing stories about his coach’s playing days and the camaraderie he shared with his teammates. That makes the compliment that much more meaningful, though Nelson isn’t sure what he’s done just yet to deserve it.
“It’s great to hear that I’m a great leader, that’s awesome,” Nelson said. “I don’t I don’t know why. I’ve had OK seasons; it’s not like I’ve had just stellar, just absolutely mind-boggling seasons. Obviously that’s the goal and I want to have that. I know I can do that. But that’s awesome to hear. I’m romantic about football and about team. I love those guys death, I’d do anything for them. I want those guys to succeed.
“I always think about 20 or 30 years down the road when we’re old, we can’t move and our knees don’t work, sitting around a table talking about the memories that we made here and how we changed our lives. Because those guys [Frost and his peers] did that when they were here and I can see the pride and just the overwhelming feeling of happiness that they have about the time that they had here, and I want to have that with those guys.”
As for the “stellar season” he hasn’t yet turned in, Nelson has big goals for this season. He’s shooting for double-digit sacks, a threshold no Husker has reached since Ndamukong Suh in 2009 (10.5).
“Somebody has to be the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, so why not me?” Nelson said. “I know the type of player that I am. I want to go prove to the rest of world and also prove to myself that I know who I am.”
Nelson was halfway there in 2021, leading the Huskers with 5.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in his breakout season. Vokolek, the lone offensive representative for the Huskers at Big Ten Media Days, offered his own unique brand of praise for the edge rusher after tangling with him in the trenches in practice over the last few years, calling Nelson “a heck of a competitor and also a psychopath.”
Nelson has big expectations for himself, but he also understands the program as a whole is under a lot of pressure heading into year five of Frost’s tenure following a 3-9 season. His method for dealing with the pressure is to “keep his world small.”
“Keep the main thing the main thing, a big target, bullseye,” Nelson said. “Focus on that. For me I go back to why I love football, started playing football, is because I get to hang out with these guys and go win games and have a good time. Being pretty romantic about football and dreaming or visualizing yourself celebrating with those guys after really big games, having the stadium go crazy, that’s what I think about. I don’t think about the pressure. I know it’s there and that makes me perform better or truly hone in on my details and care more than I’ve ever cared or try harder than I’ve ever tried in my life. But keep the world small. Care about my family and care about these guys, be the best teammate I can be, whether that be me making plays or putting my arm around a guy and making him laugh. That’s about all I care about.”
Frost spoke of “one standard” for the program that all the players are striving to meet. For Nelson, that standard is simple. He just wants to see himself and his teammates leave everything on the field.
“I just kind of want heads rolling on the field,” Nelson said. “I want dudes to play as hard and as fast as they can. That’s about the only thing … I really think we have a whole team of dudes that would rather die than disappoint each other. We know that we want to change our lives. We know that we’ve been working towards this time.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.