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Junior class loaded with talent

[ 0 ] April 22, 2013 |

Until about a year ago, Matt Nelson figured he would play basketball in college.

“That changed rather quickly,” the 6-foot-8 Nelson said Monday.

Nelson sacked his plan to play college basketball partly because of his ability to sack the quarterback.

The junior from Cedar Rapids Xavier High School has seen his stock soar in football as a defensive end/tight end since helping the Saints to a runner-up finish in the Class 4A playoffs in November.

Nelson picked up a scholarship offer from Notre Dame on Wednesday and has offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Arkansas, Stanford, Nebraska and San Diego State.

He also currently holds four scholarship offers in basketball from Rice, Northern Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota State.

“I felt that I had more fun playing football,” Nelson said of why he chose to pursue football in college instead of basketball. “I, of course, heard people say I had more upside in football. But I didn’t really let that get to me.”

Nelson is one of at least six high school juniors from in-state who already have scholarship offers from Iowa for football.

Three of the juniors — offensive linemen Ross Pierschbacher and Lucas LeGrand and athlete Jay Scheel — have committed to Iowa, although, Pierschbacher said he might visit some other schools if the Hawkeyes struggle again next season. The Cedar Falls native recently received a scholarship offer from two-time defending national champion Alabama, to go along with offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska and Wisconsin among others.

Indianola offensive lineman Keegan Render also has an Iowa offer, as does Urbandale receiver Allen Lazard. However, Lazard has committed to Iowa State, where his father used to play and where his brother currently plays.

The 6-4, 190-pound Lazard is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 receiver in the 2014 senior class.

“It’s more than just the amount of Division I recruits (that makes the junior class special), it’s also the level of the recruits, guys with multiple BCS offers,” said Rob Howe, who is publisher of HawkeyeInsider.com. “If you look at Nelson and Pierschbacher and Lazard, those guys all have pretty high-end offers.”

Nelson grew up cheering for Iowa State, but mostly because his parents both graduated from there.

He became more interested in Iowa once the recruiting process started. He knows that Iowa needs help at defensive end and he also would like to be an orthopedic surgeon, which he could pursue at Iowa.

“He’s a very versatile player, and he’s got a great frame,” Xavier football coach Duane Schulte said of Nelson, who currently weighs about 240 pounds. “He can play both offense and defense, and he’s just going to get bigger.

“And along with that frame is he moves pretty well for his size. And he’s a smart kid in the classroom, too. We’ve got a 4.0 scale here, and he’s above that with the honor courses he’s taking.”

Nelson visited the Iowa campus Thursday to get better acquainted with the academic situation. He also watched Iowa practice and paid close attention to the defensive ends.

“I don’t really have a top five, but they’re one of my favorites that I’m looking at right now,” Nelson said of Iowa.

Nelson also doesn’t have a preference between playing offense or defense in college.

“Nope, just as long as I play,” he said.

Iowa is recruiting Nelson as a defensive end, while other schools like him more as a tight end.

In addition to Iowa, Nelson also has Notre Dame and Stanford high on his list. He visited the Notre Dame campus last week and plans to visit Stanford in June.

“I’m going out to their camp and for their Junior Day,” Nelson said of Stanford. “It’s going to be fun. I’ve heard it’s just beautiful. One of my friends went out there for a college visit and he said it was just awesome.”

Nelson said he doesn’t feel any pressure to pick an in-state school. He would like to make a decision before the start of his senior year. But only if it feels right.

“It’s always nice to keep kids in-state,” Nelson said. “But that’s not going to be a big factor.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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