Joe Nelson may be a stranger to many Carson High football fans, but he won’t be a stranger to McQueen when he lines up under center Friday night in the first round of the NIAA football playoffs.
Nelson entered the nonleague game against the Lancers with Carson trailing 6-0. On the second snap, the strong-armed junior lofted a 56-yard TD pass to Connor Pradere, and the Senators went on to a 28-21 win back on Sept. 5.
A lot has changed since that night. Nelson has taken over as the No. 1 QB, and Carson hasn’t lost a game (3-0) Nelson has started. Entering Friday’s contest, Nelson has completed 38 of 67 passes for 637 yards and five scores against just two interceptions. He’s completed 57 percent of his passes, which is second-best among starting Division I quarterbacks.
And, he’s coming off his best effort of the season, a 262-yard performance in the 49-6 demolition of Douglas. Not bad for a guy who really just started to play quarterback last spring.
“I feel I’ve done pretty well,” Nelson said. “A bunch of people came up to me after the Douglas game and congratulated me. More people around school know who I am now.
“I was excited about it (the opportunity to play quarterback). It’s happened sooner than I expected. Vic (Castro) was great on JV, and I knew Nolan (Shine) was a great quarterback. I never expected to take over this year. I expected to compete for the starting job next year.”
Nelson, unlike many of his teammates, didn’t grow up in Carson. Nobody on the current team laid eyes on him until three years ago.
The Nelson family moved into Carson City from Michigan after his eighth-grade year when his dad got a new job. He didn’t play freshman football, but did play JV baseball. As a sophomore, he played JV football and split time between JV and varsity during baseball season.
It was December or early January when Roman approached Nelson. “Some of what I noticed is that he really stood out at JV as a defensive end and wide receiver,” Roman said. “I knew he was a pitcher, so I knew he had a good arm. I asked him if he’d ever played quarterback, and he told me he had in youth football (fourth grade). I asked him if he’d be interested in playing quarterback, and he said he was. I knew he had a lot to learn. We had Vic Castro V ahead of him, and Vic had led the JV team to an 8-1 record. He had to work his way up the depth chart, and fortunately for us he did.
“Two things have stood out. The first was at camp. We were scrimmaging a team from the Yuba City area, and he made a couple of eye-opening throws. At that point he still wasn’t very refined. And then the first pass he threw went for that long TD against McQueen, and I knew then that I’d made the right decision. His progress enabled us to move Nolan (Shine) full-time to defense, and that’s made us better on defense. It was just a matter of how quick Joe would progress.”
Make no mistake about it, Nelson has paid his dues. Starting from scratch and playing quarterback is no simple task. He spent plenty of hours learning to play the position from both Roman and Kiko Vega, who works with the varsity quarterbacks while serving as the JV offensive coordinator. The coaches covered everything from footwork, throwing motion and defensive recognition. Nelson is still learning in all phases, but his progress has been rapid.
“We started at the beginning of March,” Roman said. “We would meet at lunch and do chalk-talk type sessions, and then meet before school twice a week in the gym before school.
“With Joe we were starting from scratch, but in a good way. He had athletic ability and no bad habits. He picks up stuff so fast. We’re at the point now that we can audible with him. He’s better at recognizing coverages and picking up the mental side of the game. He has become a student of the game. He has a good football IQ. He and I are starting to speak the same language. He really understands what we’re trying to do.”
When school lets out, Vega holds a quarterbacks camp, and Roman has been happy with those results.
Nelson admits the mental part has been easier than some physical aspects of the game, namely the throwing motion.
“I struggled with the throwing motion, and I was overstriding,” Nelson said. “The ball wasn’t spiraling like it should, and my release point was too high, which caused the ball to sail.”
Before practice starts each day you will see Nelson on the side throwing to coach Ty McMillen, and before games he’s working with Vega. You can see Nelson going through the proper throwing motion almost in slow motion, making sure everything is correct. The Carson junior said everything came together the week of the Douglas game. It was obviously no coincidence he had his best game, throwing for a couple of scores and running for another. His ability to hurt teams vertically will open things up for Colby Brown, Elijah Fajayan and Asa Carter.
“That (running TD) was supposed to be a pass,” Nelson said. “It was a bad snap and I had to go up in the air for it, and that threw off the timing. I can make plays with my feet. Coach yelled at me when we played Clayton Valley because I didn’t slide. I like to run people over.”
That is something you would expect to hear from a running back not a quarterback. Nelson looks quiet and unassuming, but the old saying of don’t judge a book by its cover holds true.
His play in the last three weeks certainly has wiped out any doubts anybody in the program might have had about him.
“I think at the start (last spring), it took a while for some of the guys to warm up to me,” Nelson said. “Nolan had been the starter on JVs as a sophomore. I think it took a while to get used to me. They started to warm up during summer camp at Tahoe.
“Nolan has been great. He wants what is best for the team always. After the (game-winning) TD against Damonte, he was the first one to congratulate me. He is that kind of guy.”