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CEDAR RAPIDS — Five years ago, Matt Nelson was walking the halls of Xavier High School thinking basketball would be his primary sport.
Nelson, a 2014 Xavier graduate. is now a 6-foot-8 defensive end for the fifth ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes suffered a tough loss in their first Big Ten championship game on Dec. 5 and will play Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Friday.
“It’s awesome knowing that we have worked so hard from this past off-season to be invited to play in the Rose Bowl,” Nelson said. “Last year’s bowl was a disappointment to many people, but this year we changed a bunch of things and now we are heading to the Rose Bowl. It’s an amazing feeling being able to play because Iowa hasn’t been to Pasadena in quite some time.”
Before committing to Iowa, Nelson was a part of two Class 4A state football championship games with the Saints in 2012 and 2013. He also participated in the Iowa Shrine Bowl in July of 2014. During his senior year at Xavier he was named to an elite all-state team, first team all-state and first team all-Mississippi Valley Conference in football.
“Knowing that a former Xavier athlete is participating in the Rose Bowl makes me proud of our entire football program,” Xavier head coach Duane Schulte said. “Especially because he thought of himself as a basketball player, not a football player.”
Nelson holds the record at Xavier for the most tackles for loss (30). He committed to Iowa after narrowing his choices to Stanford, Notre Dame and Iowa following his senior season. Both Iowa and Xavier coaches emphasize mental and physical toughness. Because of this, Nelson now weighs 270 pounds and has worked hard to improve his skills to get to where he is today.
“The coaches at Xavier instilled the same values that we have here at Iowa, they preach of toughness, as well as doing your job,” Nelson said. “It was easy to adjust to the coaching at Iowa because the coaching styles for both Iowa and Xavier are very comparable.”