NORMAN — Hands down, the most improved player on Oklahoma’s defense last season was defensive back Jonathan Nelson.
During his first three years in Norman, Nelson battled various injuries, which kept him on the sideline. And heading into last season, despite his intelligence and athleticism, again he was on the outside looking in on OU’s defensive back rotation.
But late in the season, Nelson came out of nowhere to beat out Sam Proctor for the starting job at strong safety.
Once in the lineup, Nelson proved he belonged. He picked off a pass in each of OU’s final three regular-season games and almost intercepted another in the Sun Bowl, but bobbled the ball into the hands of teammate Travis Lewis.
Nelson, now a rising senior, is looking to build on his breakout season this spring. In an interview with The Oklahoman
, Nelson spoke about what kept him on the sideline previously, what finally got him on the field and what he thinks of new Sooner secondary coach Willie Martinez:
You emerged out of nowhere to become a starter last season. How did you do it?
"Over the summer, first off, I gained over 10 pounds, 13-14 pounds, and got to around 185. That was a big contributor to me actually being healthy for a change. I honestly feel one of the reasons for the injuries was my size. I missed my whole sophomore year because of a knee, and my freshman year, I had all kinds of injuries. Adding some weight made me more durable.”
→What was it like going into last season, when it looked like you would be on the bench again?
"I was confident with the guys we had out there. But I felt I was being overlooked. As far as the injuries, I felt like I could have done more than what I had done. I felt like I had that ability.”
→Once you got onto the field, you made plays. It seemed you were going to do whatever it took to make the most of your opportunity?
"You only get to live once. You understand that more and more after all the mess I’ve been through. Sort of, whether it was my fault or not, I wasted three seasons here. I felt like once I actually got the start, I wanted to make a big explosion. Maybe not be an All-American, but I wanted to make some kind of noise to help out the defense, try my best to do my role, and do it to the best of my ability.”
→You were a lifelong corner. How did you get switched to safety last year?
"Around two-a-days, I mentioned it to (secondary coach Bobby Jack) Wright, that he should move me to safety, that I didn’t weigh 170 anymore. He didn’t believe me. But literally, I bugged coach Wright for about three-four weeks.