Nelson is on a mission
It seems like yesterday when Jerico Nelson was running through opposing defenses across south Louisiana.
The former Destrehan High School running back was on one of the state’s most talented and successful high school teams ever. Nelson played on a Wildcat team that won the 2007 Class 5A Louisiana state football championship along with former LSU quarterbackJordan Jefferson, former LSU and Louisiana Tech wide receiver Tim Molton and former Tulsa wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who is the NCAA record holder for all-purpose yards in a career.
Now Nelson has a chance to be a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Nelson rushed for over 1,100 yards and scored 22 touchdowns as a prep senior at Destrehan, and he was heavily pursued by Purdue University as a slot wide receiver before he selected Arkansas during the recruiting process.
“Drew Brees may be mad at me for selecting Arkansas over Purdue, but it was a chance for me to play in the Southeastern Conference and it was easier for my family to come and see me play at Arkansas,” Nelson said. “I had played defense at Destrehan and I knew that is where they wanted me to play and it was a good four-year run.”
Nelson’s high school coach, Steve Robicheaux, said that the formerDestrehan standout was the most football-savvy player he has ever been around.
“Jerico has a knack for the game you just can’t coach,” Robicheaux said. “He has incredible football instincts. He did play running back for us, but we played him on defense also at linebacker, in the secondary and pretty much wherever we needed somebody out there. When we put him on the field, no matter what position he played, he knew exactly what to do. He’s probably the most instinctive football player I have ever coached.”
It didn’t take long for Nelson to make an impact for the Razorbacks as he played in 10 games and started seven as a true freshman.
Nelson’s presence quickly caught the attention of former Razorbacks defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.
“I have to be honest and tell you that Jerico was my pride and joy as a player at Arkansas,” Robinson said. “He was our bell cow player on defense. People get all caught up with this size and strength stuff, but he has a great heart and mind for the game. He is a very tough young man, but he also has good foot speed. He is a (4.50) type guy, but we used him in what was best for the team. I don’t say this often, but he has great football IQ. He was our emotional leader and when he was on, the rest of the defense was fired up. I had an opportunity to coach at the NFL level and his talents and intelligence compare to some of the greatest players I coached in the pros.”
Nelson started at both outside linebacker and safety for the Razorbacks and over the last two seasons, registering 157 tackles, 16 1/2 tackles for losses, 4 1/2 quarterback sacks and three interceptions.
“I love the physical part of this game and in our scheme I played pretty much up on the line of scrimmage to aid in run support,” Nelson said. “If you don’t stop the run in the SEC you don’t have a chance to win. I am confident I can play at the next level. I’m a good open-field tackler, I read and recognize what is happening pretty quickly out on the field, I have had success rushing the quarterback coming off the edge and while I still have things to learn I have played against some pretty strong competition in the Southeastern Conference. I know people downgraded me because I am just 5-9, but I just want a chance to prove I can play at the next level.”
Nelson played on every special teams unit in his first two seasons at Arkansas, and he knows that it might be his ticket to play in the NFL.
“I will play wherever they want me to play,” Nelson said. “I love this game and I enjoy playing special teams. I also want them to see I am pretty good in the coverage part of the game also.”
Due to Arkansas’ defensive scheme, Nelson was not recognized for his coverage skills, but he said he improved that area by practicing every day against some of the best receivers in the SEC.
“Every day in practice, I went up against Joe Adams (Carolina Panthers), Jarius Wright (Minnesota Vikings) and Greg Childs (Minnesota Vikings), and all three were selected in last month’s draft,” Nelson said. “I also had to cover Cobi Hamilton, who is one of the best returning wide receivers in the conference and tight end Chris Gragg is very talented also. Every day was a challenge because of the skill level we had in the passing game and I went up againstRyan Mallett, now Tom Brady’s back-up with the New EnglandPatriots and one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Tyler Wilson.”
Nelson said he is looking forward to proving himself at the Saints mini-camp sessions this weekend and getting a chance to make his lifelong dream come true. “I just want a chance and that was the main reason I picked the Saints,” he said. “I had other opportunities and it was a choice between the Saints and Denver Broncos, but I did some research and knew this organization had given free agents a legitimate shot to make their roster in the past. My agent had told me that the Saints might take me in Round 7 and I had a good workout for them right before the draft, and so I knew if I wasn’t selected by anyone that New Orleans was the right spot for me. If it is on special teams, strong safety or wherever they want me I am ready for the challenge. I dreamed of playing in the NFL and it seems unbelievable that I could play pro football where I grew up and be part of the Who Dat Nation. The one thing I can guarantee is that I will give it everything I have to play right here in New Orleans.”