UNI Panthers

Elias Nissen made steady climb to on-field contributions for UNI football

Springville native has adjusted to being a tight end

Northern Iowa Panthers tight end Elias Nissen. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers tight end Elias Nissen. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR FALLS — As recently as 2010, the Northern Iowa football team had a duo of tight ends that defenses had to account for. Schulyar Oordt and Ryan Mahaffey were a talented pair who provided the Panther offense everything they could ask for from the position.

Fast forward to 2018 and UNI has another tight end duo that’s arguably on par with Oordt and Mahaffey.

UNI tight ends coach Nick Danielson said on media day about Elias Nissen and Briley Moore, “That pair is no question. I’ve got two great kids there.”

While Moore, a junior from Missouri, is proving to be spectacular, Nissen has much less sand in his career’s hourglass. The fifth-year senior from Springville has undergone the type of development in his football career that characterizes UNI football. Looking back, the fifth-year senior admits that getting his first collegiate playbook brought on plenty of anxiety.

“My basic anxiety was knowing what in the world I was doing schematically,” Nissen said. “I didn’t know the offense. I just knew in high school I was getting the ball and I was running to the right, I was running to the left, I was doing a counter. I knew routes. But I didn’t know anything about how to draw up power or run inside zone.”

Nissen put up remarkable numbers at Springville. He mainly played running back and linebacker and rushed for 2,218 yards, had 59 total touchdowns and racked up 107 tackles for the Orioles his senior year.

Those numbers and a 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame were enough to catch the attention of a handful of Division-I programs. Wyoming showed interest, as did FCS stalwarts Western Illinois and North Dakota State. After deciding to stay close to home and come to UNI for its rich tradition, the former 8-player standout arrived in Cedar Falls and said it took at least a year before he began to feel comfortable.

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“Coach Danielson was a huge help,” Nissen said. “He’s a coach where he’s able to really help build guys up. I didn’t have any foundation (or) knowledge of (tight end).”

It’s been a steady climb for Nissen in terms of his productivity at tight end. As offensive coordinators have changed throughout his career, so has his role at the position. He says he learned to love blocking, but does still occasionally long for the days when he was getting 20-plus touches a game at Springville.

“The adrenaline of beating the guy across from you and pancaking somebody, it was a new love (that) had to grow,” Nissen said. “Going into that first year that Briley was here, I was like, ‘I just miss having the ball in my hand,’ ya know? I definitely miss that a lot, (but) it’s been awesome with Coach Bond coming in here and kind of changing the way we do things and really (he) just loves getting the ball to tight ends. That’s been a lot of fun.”

With only nine guaranteed games left in his career, Nissen hopes to contribute considerably to a team he believes has the potential to make a deep playoff run despite its 0-2 start. Looking back on his entire career, the former Springville standout has no regrets about his decision to don the purple and gold, as his effect on the program has happened on and off the field.

“I’ve loved it (here),” Nissen said. “There’s been a lot of hard times. Middle of camp and you hate life a little bit, but you learn to love it. The biggest thing has been coming (to UNI) and finding my faith in Jesus Christ. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve taken from my experience. I’ve loved being a Panther.”

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