Some are still unaware who dons the No. 56 for Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic, but college coaches around the country certainly don't count themselves among that group. Head coaches in the know about Quenton Nelson include Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Rutgers' Kyle Flood, to name a few.
While not a head coach, Penn State tight ends' coach John Strollo belongs on the list, too, as does PSU head coach Bill O'Brien. Those men all paid in-home or in-school visits to Nelson in the last couple months, as college coaches were allowed to hit the road for an evaluation period that ended Dec. 16.
Though he wouldn't be Nelson's position coach at University Park, Strollo, who has taken the lead in the Garden State for O'Brien's staff recruiting-wise, is quickly growing his relationship with the 6-foot-5, 293-pound offensive tackle.
“Coach Strollo has stopped by my school a couple times now, and we chat sometimes on Facebook, too,” Nelson said on a snowy Wednesday afternoon after switching his pads for sneakers and practicing with Red Bank's basketball team (he starts at center). “I've known him since last year, and I think we have a pretty good relationship.”
It was a warm, humid summer day at University Park when Nelson received an offer from the Nittany Lions, after he took part in a June Advanced Skills Camp.
“Their facilities are nice and I love their weight room,” Nelson told FOX Sports NEXT Northeast Analyst Brian Dohn in August.“The coaching staff is great. (Offensive line) coach Mac (McWhorter) is a great guy. He has so much experience. He's been everywhere. He's played the game.”
Nelson wants to mine all the knowledge he can from McWhorter, too. It's that way with every offensive line coach he meets. The relationship he builds with the coaches who will teach him the ins and outs of life in the college trenches will go a long way in determining where he'll continue his career. And on a positive note for Penn State, it got off to a good start in that department thanks to a man Nelson calls “crazy.”
“I'm really looking for a positive relationship with my position coach, as well as the strength coach,” Nelson said. “I also pay a lot of attention to the schools' academics, and their APR (Academic Progress Rate). Coach Mac [McWhorter] was the coach who offered me, and he just told me that I have to keep getting up there [to University Park], and I'll like it even more; he feels it would be a great fit for me.
“And I really like the weight room and strength and conditioning coach there, Coach [Craig] Fitzgerald. I saw a photo of him without a shirt on before a game, and I think it was below 32 degrees. He's crazy, but I like that about him.”
Nelson's junior season performance was difficult to quantify individually but easier when one examines the team's success. The Caseys rushed for 261.9 yards per game behind Nelson and his linemates, most to the benefit of tail back Larry Redaelli, who scooted for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns. Red Bank was 10-1 and ended the season with a 42-7 loss to St. Joseph Regional in the NJISSA Non-Public Group Three semifinals.
“We had a pretty good season, and I learned a lot about myself this year,” Nelson said. “I feel like I'm much better in run blocking then pass blocking, so that's something I really want to focus on during the offseason; just improving my footwork, agility technique."
And to do that, he'll take a break from the gridiron and hone his footwork on the hardwood.
“Basketball really helps with my agility and speed, because I go against all different sizes of kids ,” Nelson said. “Whether they are tall and lanky, or skinny and quick, or big and strong, they all present a different challenge I have to adjust to. Having to stay with them and guard them makes me change the way I use my speed, and forces me to keep improving it, too.”
Nelson will again hit the weight room and agility ladder once the basketball season comes to an end, and add car miles to training miles as he works to get a clearer picture of his recruitment heading into his senior season.
“I went to Rutgers' Junior Day earlier this month, and I'm going to make some more visits in the spring,” Nelson said. The junior has offers and interest from Miami, Northwestern, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio State, Rutgers, Boston College and Penn State, as well as interest from Oregon.
“I look forward to just continue lifting and getting quicker, and figuring out where I want to go in the spring,” Nelson said.