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August 7, 2013Not often does Oregon State snatch a prized prospect from the firm grasp of an upper echelon SEC program.
But that's exactly what happened in the case of cornerback Steven Nelson.
After two years at the College of Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., where he developed into one of the top junior college corners in the country, Nelson eyed a return home to his native state of Georgia. He grew up in Atlanta and attended Northside High School, where he developed into a standout football player.
More importantly, he was a Georgia fan from birth. In fact, his family was full of Bulldog supporters and like thousands of kids in the talent-rich Peach State, he dreamed of one day playing for Georgia in front of 92,000 fans in Athens, Ga.
So, when Nelson committed to Georgia in February 2012 following his first season at College of Sequoias, he took a big step towards fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Nine months later, Nelson decommitted.
Shortly thereafter, he pledged to Oregon State. He signed with the Beavers in December and enrolled for classes in January.
What happened? Rod Perry happened.
In spite of his commitment to Georgia and longing to return home, Nelson was convinced by Perry, OSU's secondary coach, to take a visit to Corvallis last October, putting the wheels were in motion for Beavers to land one of their highest profile signees of the 2013 recruiting cycle.
Weeks later, Nelson committed to Oregon State, citing the opportunity to play for Perry as a major influence on his decision. It didn't hurt, of course, that Perry coached in the NFL for 23 years (1989-2011) with six different teams and could unequivocally point Nelson in the right direction in terms of preparing the right way over the next two years for a cherished career in the NFL.
When spring practice started on April 1, Nelson quickly engaged senior Sean Martin in a battle for the starting cornerback job, the spot vacated by Jordan Poyer, perhaps one of the best Beaver players in years.
Once he saw the highly-touted Nelson perform on the practice field in April, Oregon State coach Mike Riley realized the Beavers, Perry in particular, had hit one out of the park.
"Stephen is a bright, competitive, dedicated kid," Riley exclaimed recently. "We hit it right on the head with recruiting him. That was a great job by Rod Perry. This appears to be a real good addition. Good evaluation. The right kid."
While the Nelson-Martin battle has been the subject of considerably less chatter than the ongoing quarterback competition between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, Riley doesn't view the race as less important.
Especially since Nelson and/or Martin are succeeding one of OSU's best players and leaders from a year ago.
"That's such a key, key position in football," Riley said. "The most important thing you're looking for there is reliability."
Because he didn't redshirt at College of Sequoias, Nelson technically has three years to play two years for the Beavers. Based on his spring practice performance, the odds of that happening in 2013 are slim unless he suffers a catastrophic injury early in the season.
Nelson spent the spring learning the defensive scheme, and was much farther along as far as his knowledge is concerned when preseason camp opened Monday in Corvallis.
"He showed a lot of signs athletically of being able to do (some things)," Riley said. "In the spring, he was encumbered with trying to learning all the coverages and the nomenclature and all that stuff. But you could still see his ability. My guess is he will be that more comfortable in fall camp, and through the work in fall camp will be able to emerge as a player."
Riley anticipates Nelson will contribute to the Beavers beyond his responsibilities at cornerback. Nelson has potential as a dynamic kick returner, as well.
"Stephen has a good football IQ, he's a hard worker, dedicated, good guy," Riley said. "My guess is he'll emerge as a player for us in a number of different ways for us. Special teams, playing corner, nickel package, dime package.
"We recruit junior college players to compete immediately. Seven Nelson is that type of guy. He's a gym rat and fits in with our team right away. I anticipate good things for him."
Already, Riley is talking about finding spots for both Martin and Nelson in the lineup. OSU faces at least a half dozen teams that employ the spread as their base offensive scheme, so utilizing five or six cornerbacks could become common in order to get as much speed on the field as possible.
Martin's edge over Nelson is his experience in the program. After a broken foot cut short his 2011 season in the third game, he bounced back with a solid campaign in 2012 with 43 tackles and two interceptions as the third cornerback behind Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds, who returns for his senior season.
Martin saw most of his action as the nickel back. History could repeat itself if Nelson wins the starting cornerback job.
For the moment, Riley will allow the heated competition to continue until the time comes to make a decision. Beginning Monday, twenty-nine practices stand between the Beavers and the August 31 season opener against Eastern Washington.
"I'm not willing to say who's going to win the starting job at that spot, but you always need more than just the two starters that can play," Riley said. "Even if they're not starting, they're rotating in, they're playing nickel or dime.
"Probably both of those guys will play, whatever the situation. We saw enough in the spring to say we have a chance to have some reliable people opposite Rashaad Reynolds."
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