Garrett Nelson
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Garrett Nelson, Nebraska Native, Blackshirt

November 12, 2019

Garrett Nelson is out with the defensive line warming up before games. 

He’s one of only a couple of outside linebackers to do so. It serves a couple purposes. One, it gets the heart rate up and it gets the blood flowing, which is encouraged by the coaching staff. Remember: a few weeks ago, defensive tackle Darrion Daniels got onto guys because that wasn’t being taken seriously. Two, Nelson being out there gives him time to work on his pass-rush technique. 

“Just kind of a ritual to get ready for pass-rush, get ready for run fits,” the freshman outside linebacker said Tuesday. “It’s just mental repetition to work on my technique and understand my plan for the game in the sense of pass-rush. Obviously it varies play by play, but just to get the technique down one last time, get everything right and get everything ready.”

“He’s constantly trying to learn more,” added junior defensive end Ben Stille, a guy Nelson is warming up with each Saturday, a guy who laughs at the comparison drawn between the energetic Nelson and the younger brother that never stops bouncing off walls. “There’s a lot of carryover from outside linebacker, especially when you’re up in a six-technique on the tight end. If we can get them to do what we do inside the exact same way, we should all four be doing the exact same job the exact same way. If we can get everyone to do that at the exact same level, we’ll be salty.”

This is not encouraged by the coaching staff. 

Not to say the staff doesn’t want Nelson out there, just that they didn’t ask him to. 

This is Garrett Nelson. 

He went to position coach Jovan Dewitt and said, “This is what I want to do,” (not an exact quote but you get the idea).

“He can’t sit still before a game, he’s got to be on the move, he’s got to be on the go, which I love,” Dewitt said. “He likes to do it with the d-line so god bless him, I let him go.”

Nelson, along with redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Damian Jackson, is Nebraska’s newest Blackshirt.

He is not a starter. 

And he is a true freshman. 

“Have you ever watched Garrett practice?” Dewitt answered, when asked why he got the coveted practice jersey. “Have you ever watched Garrett prepare for a game? You ever watch Garrett run out on the field pregame? Ever seen Garrett do anything he’s not supposed to do consistently? Garrett does things right off and on the field and that’s what’s given Garrett the opportunity to get a Blackshirt. That’s why his snaps have gone up game to game to game.”

Nelson was almost moved to tears when asked what the jersey meant to him. A Scottsbluff native, the guy is as Nebraskan as any single member of this program—player, staff, administrator included. 

“I think people just take notice when he’s in the game, how much it means to him,” Stille said. 

Use the Twitter search function and just type in the name “Garrett Nelson” and look at some of the comments about the linebacker today. He’s universally beloved. The first-year man isn’t playing mistake-free football but he plays free of a fear of making mistakes, and when looking at this through that lens, it makes complete sense. 

Nelson becoming a Blackshirt was a matter of when, not if.

“I wasn’t worried about it, I just know I had to work hard every day, and kept coming back to work as hard as I could and doing the right things on and off the field,” Nelson said. “That day comes and it came today, so I was happy. Now rent’s due every day and I gotta go pay it.

“In my mind, there really isn’t an outstanding reason, it’s really just the norm that should be here every day, coming to work and being excited about what you’re doing and being excited being around each other and flying to the ball.

“This shirt doesn’t represent perfection, it represents attention to detail and giving 100% every play. Blackshirts mess up all the time. It’s not like they disregarded the mistake. They fixed it, got better and it’s just working hard every day and wanting it every day.”

Nelson says his class, a 2019 group that features Nebraska natives at linebacker—Nick Henrich (Nelson’s roommate) and Garrett Snodgrass—tight end and offensive line, doesn’t talk about being the group to “fix” Nebraska. They just focus on working each day. 

“We’re not going to be hyping each other up like, ‘Oh, we’re the ones…’ Enough of that,” he said. “We’re going to come to work, we’re going to do our thing and we’re going to focus on each other. We’re not going to talk to anybody about that, and when it happens, it happens. We’re not going to boast about it and say, ‘We were the class.’ We’re just going to be the guys that show up and work every day.”

That’s what motivates him. Not the idea of something happening later down the line, but the idea of putting in work right now that can affect change right now.

“I’m here right now, aren’t I? So why wait?” he said. “Why excuse yourself and say, ‘Oh, we’ll get it junior, senior year,’ or, ‘Oh, I’ll get it sophomore year.’ Why wait? As soon as you step on the field, you should try to make every play, you should try to make the biggest impact you can and you’re going to work hard every single practice and you’re going to do it at a million miles an hour.”

Dewitt doesn’t like to mess too much with Nelson’s routine. The pregame work is fine with him. He had a coach who used to “wear you out before the game” and he didn’t like that. He gives his group some leash. 

He lets Nelson be Nelson. 

A Blackshirt. 

“I’m very, very proud to be his coach,” Dewitt says.

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