With so many following high school All-American defensive end Noah Spence last fall, Hershey left tackle Andrew Nelson got to open some eyes when his team took on Spence and eventual PIAA Class AAA runner-up Bishop McDevitt late last October.
One set of eyes Nelson opened was his own.
"Spence and I really only went up against each other two or three times, because they kept lining him up on the opposite side. I don't know if that was a coincidence or not. However, I can say he never made the sack the few times I went up against him,'' Nelson said. "Although I didn't have that much time against him, that was a confidence-booster. It showed me that I can compete with kids at that level.''
Apparently it helped show college scouts something, too. They began to check in on Nelson and recruit him. Maryland, Temple, Northwestern, Missouri and Pitt were among those that offered scholarships.
Nelson, though, left all of them disappointed. Penn State made an offer during his April 14 unofficial visit to watch a spring practice, and the lure of playing for his childhood favorite and father's alma mater was too great; the 6-foot-5, 263-pounder committed the next day, becoming the eighth member of the Nittany Lions' 2013 recruiting class.
"It was an easy decision for me, although there were a bunch of other schools out there that were good schools and had good stuff going for them. But it's been my dream to play at Penn State since I was 4 years old,'' Nelson said. "It was the dream I thought I'd never reach. Once it came, it was impossible to say no. When I was up there it just felt like home.''
Nelson is the second offensive lineman in what is expected to be a group of three brought in by Penn State and the first of two projected tackles.
In Nelson, the Nittany Lions landed a player with unusual athleticism for his size. At the Nike Football SPARQ Combine at Massillon, Ohio last month, Nelson posted the second best overall athletic score for an offensive lineman and the best for a player heavier than 250 pounds, running a 5.0-second 40-yard dash and recording nearly a 30-inch vertical jump.
Of course, that probably was helped by the fact that he played two years of high school volleyball before switching to track and field this year; he wrestles in the winter. Although he was one of the two biggest kids on the team when he began playing football in fourth grade, Nelson started out as a fullback and linebacker, and he's played every position across both sides of the line - including tight end - since.
BlueWhite Illustrated football recruiting writer Ryan Snyder was one of those who Nelson made a believer in the McDevitt game, even though Hershey lost, 42-0.
"He did match up against Spence multiple times, and he did really, really well,'' Snyder said. "This one play, he comes down, there's a double-team on the guard, and Bishop McDevitt sent a cornerback blitz, and he got out and just plowed this guy. It was a very athletic play. Athleticism is definitely something I would note with him. He's got the intangibles, and he's got the work ethic.''
Nelson produced on the field, too. Hershey averaged more than 200 yards rushing last season and almost 310 in total offense in going 8-3 and reaching the District 3 quarterfinals.
With that resume, one has to wonder why Nelson wasn't rated more highly than a three-star prospect - in fact, when he went to Pitt's junior day, his paper work was misplaced because he was registered as a defensive end, and sometimes he is listed as "David'' Nelson, his real first name that he shares with his dad. But Snyder has an answer.
"He's not a big camp guy,'' Snyder said. "He hasn't really gone out to get his name out there, and that has a lot to do with it.''
Nelson, who did attend camps at Penn State, also plays in an option offense, limiting opportunities for college coaches to see him in pass protection, although he does go up against Missouri defensive tackle recruit Harold Brantley in Hershey practices. Nelson is hoping to shore up that part of his game this summer, but it didn't seem like something he needed to do until now.
"I was never thinking [about being recruited by big college programs]. My mentality always was I'll work as hard as I can and whatever happens will happen,'' said Nelson, whose favorite pro players to watch are former Big Ten linemen Jake Long and J.J. Watt.
Nelson was at the Blue-White Game last Saturday, where he got to bond with the Nittany Lions' other 2013 recruits like fellow Harrisburg-area prospect Adam Breneman and look to the future.
"I'm really excited,'' Nelson said. "I've always thought of Penn State as defensively strong. With Coach [Bill] O'Brien coming from the Patriots, I'm excited to see what we can do with this offense. We have a goal as a recruiting class to really improve Penn State's offense.''
Nelson expects to major in kinesiology and is an avid outdoorsman.