As Brett Nelson ponders his college future, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior with a strong arm and a mind for the game, has no doubt that it will see him play on Saturdays.
His one drawback to college scouts is the same way he summarizes himself.
“I’m a one-season starter,” he says.
Indeed, Nelson only had one season to shine for St. Francis High. But shine he did.
Nelson only had one season under center to captain the Golden Knights offense. But it was a prolific offense at that.
In his one season as a St. Francis starter, Nelson made an impression to remember.
It was one that included staggering numbers, a Golden Knights playoff run and a unanimous vote by the sports editors and writers of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun as the 2010 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
“He was amazing this year,” says St. Francis senior offensive tackle Patrick Carroll. “He carried us a lot on offense. I can’t give enough credit to him.”
The position of quarterback is one that most aspiring football players yearn to play when they’re younger.
For Brett Nelson, that wasn’t the case. Before high school, he played on the line, with defensive end becoming the position he was most comfortable. But as a high school freshman at Loyola, that changed.
“I played it a couple of times in a game and I liked it,” recalls Nelson, adding that the knowledge afforded the position and being at the center of the game appealed to him. “That’s the reason I decided I liked playing quarterback was I liked having the ball in my hands every play.”
Thus, when Nelson transferred to St. Francis in the August preceding his junior year, on the day that he was accepted into the school, he was in Golden Knights Coach Jim Bonds’ office going over the playbook.
“I had high hopes for him the first time he set foot on our field last summer,” Bonds says.
Nonetheless, Nelson’s time would have to wait, as he would have to bide his time behind another one-season sensation in Justin Posthuma. Posthuma would total nearly 3,000 yards and score 33 total touchdowns while garnering a slew of postseason accolades.
“Justin came out and just absolutely tore up every defense,” Nelson says. “Who would be upset about playing backup for a guy who’s playing so well.”
In fact, Nelson took being a good backup seriously, using the time to study the offense, to see what Posthuma was seeing and to talk to Bonds about each and every play.
“What some people may call pestering, I call inquisitive,” Nelson jokes.
Says Bonds: “Brett took the time and he said, ‘I’m gonna be the best practice player I can be.’ He was just a great understudy.”
Thus, when the summer preceding his senior season rolled around, Nelson was ready.
“When it came his time, he took the bull by the horns and just ran with it,” Bonds says. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever had.
“The best thing about him is probably being a pure passer, just knowing he could throw the ball 65 or 70 yards down the field if he needed to.”
And the St. Francis offense was as pass-happy as it’s ever been this past season with Nelson as the signal-caller.
He threw the ball 292 times over 11 games, competing 168 passes at a 58% rate. He averaged 251 yards per game with 2,765 for the season. His most impressive statistic was likely the 28 touchdowns he threw to just eight interceptions, with 14 touchdowns and only two picks over the final seven games, as the Golden Knights rallied to make a playoff push and almost upset second-seeded Dominguez in the playoffs before falling, 28-25.
“I think that says a lot about a kid whose play rises up when the competition gets tougher,” Bonds says. “And Brett did that the whole season.”
In particular, his final game against Dominguez was the one in which Bonds believes his quarterback shined brightest.
“It was a playoff situation, so I knew I had to be at my best,” Nelson says.
After the game, the veteran coach didn’t hesitate to call it Nelson’s best, as the senior threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Not the fleetest of feet, but effective when he needed to be, as his four rushing scores on the season attest, he also found himself running in a two-point conversion after he was initially stopped but bulled over two defenders to score.
“He’s got some wheels, he just always doesn’t look pretty doing it,” Bonds says.
With talented receivers like Travis Talianko — Nelson’s go-to receiver — and Ian Hamilton — the big-play threat — at his disposal, Nelson lit up the scoreboard and St. Francis won more than it lost and found itself on the doorstep of victory against the best of the best in its division more often than not.
“We knew he could do it, we knew he had the arm. All we knew was we had to give him time,” Carroll says. “He had a lot of weapons with Travis and Ian and he used them. He put us in a great position to win in every game.
“He developed not only into a great quarterback, but a great leader, as well.”
And so with a strong arm, a football mind and one season’s worth of greatness, Nelson moves on to his next step and his next snap.
“I want to keep going with this,” he says of his college prospects. “I love football.”
No matter what happens going forward, Nelson has one season to look back on.
He had one season to shine or stumble, one season to prove he could lead the Golden Knights or was meant to be a backup all along. And in one season, Nelson made it a season to remember.
“The way he played this season is what we expected,” Bonds says. “I thought he had a phenomenal year.”