Iowa Football

Iowa DL Matt Nelson's perfect world: NFL, then medical school

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Matt Nelson (96) celebrates after Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Hockaday (48) Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) in the second quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game with the Northwestern Wildcats at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Matt Nelson (96) celebrates after Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Hockaday (48) Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) in the second quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game with the Northwestern Wildcats at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — If Laurent Duvernay-Tardif could do it, Matt Nelson could do it, too.

Not that Nelson wants to try. It won’t be happening.

The Iowa senior defensive lineman has no interest in multi-tasking this way. It’s either professional football or medical school.

One or the other. In a perfect world, it would be one THEN the other.

That Duvernay-Tardif, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman, could be good enough to start at guard for one of the NFL’s best teams (though he’s on injured reserve right now) and take classes in the offseason to become a doctor is crazy impressive. He graduated last summer from McGill University’s medical school in Montreal.

“Props to that guy,” Nelson said. “You’d have to have a very good, understanding medical school to be able to do it. I’d just like to stay with one, instead of do both at the same time.”

As of last week, Nelson — who has taken the MCATs — had yet to apply to any medical schools, though it was on his list of things to do. First and foremost, he is worried about capping his college football career appropriately.

Iowa plays Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Nelson earned his diploma recently with degrees in biology and physiology, and it has been full-bore Outback Bowl prep since.

“Done with finals, so it’s all football now,” he said. “It’s kind of weird. I haven’t had a semester in college where I haven’t had a class. It is going to be weird the next semester.”

The next semester will be filled with Nelson working out in hopes of getting drafted by some NFL team. The 6-foot-8, 295-pounder started all 12 games this season, with perhaps his most impressive statistic being six pass breakups.

That goes back to being tall and batting balls down at the line of scrimmage.

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“The plan right now is the NFL,” said Nelson, who originally was planning on a Division I college basketball career when he played both sports at Cedar Rapids Xavier High School. “I have been training my entire life for this moment, essentially. I am going to try and do this first. Then I guess my fallback plan is medical school. I’m filling out an application for that. But it is football first, without a doubt.”

After what he hopes is a successful NFL career, Nelson still plans on becoming a doctor. He envisions being an orthopedic surgeon, perhaps a team physician for a professional or college program.

Studying the correlation between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is something he can see himself doing someday.

“Sports and medicine are kind of at the intersection of my interests, so that sort of stuff would definitely bridge that gap,” Nelson said. “Biology has been an interest of mine. Just how things work. Physiology is just how the body works. I followed my interests, and it turned into a passion more than anything.”

A passion that left him precious little time for anything other than two things in college. It was studying and football, football and studying.

Not much of a social life, not much time to have one.

“There were some late nights and early mornings,” he said. “There were more times than not where I was tired, staying up and studying. These guys (his teammates) would always give me a hard time for not hanging out with them. I’d be like ‘Aw, I’ve got homework. I’ve got to study for a test.’ They’d be like ‘Oh, you’re fine. You can just blow it off.’ It is just something where if you want to do it, you are willing to put the time in.”

As you can imagine, it took him awhile to figure out how best to use the time he was putting in.

“There was most definitely an adjustment period,” he said. “Just how time consuming football is, just the mental aspect of football. Then you add this. Coming into college, it was a huge adjustment for me, time management. Getting all the places I needed to be, getting it all done.”

But he got it all done, and it has to be a satisfying feeling.

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There finally has been some down time for Nelson lately. He has used it to do what so many other college football players always get to do — play video games and hang out with the guys. Guys who regularly would ask Nelson his opinion about their respective physical maladies or ailments, by the way.

There also has been a little TV watching. OK, a lot of TV watching.

“I binge watch shows,” Nelson said. “Like right now, when we don’t have class, I’ll knock out an entire series. I’ve watched 'Game of Thrones,' for instance. There’s 'Peaky Blinders.' I eventually get around to all the shows these guys are now talking about. I kind of cram it all in at once.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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