Union Grove QB parlayed success into scholarship

Along with throwing for more than 1,800 yards, Union Grove senior quarterback Matt Nelson ran for 15 touchdowns. He is playing Division 2 college football at St. Cloud or Minnesota State-Mankato next fall. (George Ciotti/SLN)


By Tim Wester

Sports Correspondent

A pair of hip-hop playing headphones and some game film.

That’s all Union Grove’s best high school two-sport athlete Matt Nelson uses for pregame preparation.

“Some people say hip-hop doesn’t help motivate you for competition,” Nelson said. “But it really works for me.”

Indeed it does.

In 2016, Nelson became the best quarterback statistically in Union Grove history, while earning Racine County Player of the Year and Southern Lakes Conference Player of the year in football.

Nelson also averaged nearly a double-double last winter for the Broncos’ basketball team.

For his multi-sport prowess, Southern Lakes Newspapers has pegged him the area’s 2016 Male Athlete of the Year, an award that considers Burlington, Catholic Central, Waterford and Union Grove high schools.

“These awards are awesome, Nelson said. “They are the result of hard work on the field and court and watching video on my spare time.”

Nelson said he watched over 77 hours of football game film on his own time this past season to learn the tendencies of all his opponents. This helped him account for 88 percent of the Bronco football team’s total points and 80 percent of the total yardage this past fall.

“That’s what makes Matt special is that teams game-planned to stop him because they knew he was our offense,” Union Grove coach Craig McClelland said. “Yet teams still couldn’t stop him.”

This was clearly evident in Week 8 when the Broncos gave burgeoning Division 1 power Lake Geneva Badger all it could handle before the Grove fell 50-35. In that game, Nelson scored all five of the Broncos’ touchdowns to account for all 35 points, which tied for the highest total that the stingy Badger defense gave up last fall.

“I watched a little extra tape that week of the Badger game,” said Nelson, who threw 17 touchdown passes and ran for 15 more. “They got to level four of the playoffs for a reason, and I knew I needed to be ready.”

Not only did Nelson’s hard work pay off against Badger, it also played a key role in the senior earning an athletic scholarship to play football at NCAA Division 2 Minnesota-Mankato. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete, who runs a sub-4.7 in the 40-yard dash, has the rare size and speed to lead the Mavericks’ spread offensive attack.

“I’ve been around here for a long time and seen a lot of great multi-sport athletes come through Union Grove High School,” Union Grove Athletic Director and boys basketball coach Dave Pettit said. “And Matt ranks right up there with the best of them.”

Despite having rare athletic ability, Nelson has been one of the most coachable players at Union Grove.

“Matt is definitely the best quarterback that I’ve coached,” McClelland said. “I’ve yelled at him and was hard on him especially as a sophomore, but he is the kind of kid that responds well to that type of coaching.”

Nelson credits his dad for teaching him at a young age to listen and respect what his coaches are teaching him.

“I respond well when coaches yell at me,” Nelson said. “It makes me want to go out there and prove a point.”

Nelson also brings that same competitive football mentality to the basketball court, where he anchored the inside for the Broncos last season.

Unfortunately for Nelson, he won’t be able to take his game to the next level as anticipated after tearing his labrum on his non-throwing side against Delavan-Darien Dec. 9. That hasn’t stopped Nelson from continuing to be a key leader on the team, sitting on the bench with teammates and helping anywhere he can.

“I was going for a rebound and had my arm stretch out when someone ran into my shoulder, causing it to dislocate,” Nelson said. “It is really disappointing to not have the chance to help our team challenge for a conference title. We have the talent to do it, but now I’m just trying to help as a leader.”

“Matt’s just a good kid and a good leader,” Pettit added. “He was poised to have a great year because his shooting stroke improved and he had a quick first step. He also is one of the strongest kids in our school, which helps him play bigger than his 6-3 height.”

Nelson said his rehabilitation should be about five months, which would leave him healthy for training camp in Mankato next summer.

“I’m going to continue to rehab and start throwing the football soon,” Nelson said. “But right now, I just want to enjoy the basketball season and cheer my team on. I was lucky the injury happened on my non-throwing side. I don’t know what would have happened had it been on my throwing side.”

One thing is for sure, Nelson will be prepared for competition once he is cleared by the doctor.

Then it’s back to hip-hop and game film.