A peek ahead: Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

The online video, upon first viewing, seems rather unremarkable in that it’s simply a high school football player lifting weights.

As the video plays on though, as Quenton Nelson continues to hoist the 225 pounds again and again and again, it becomes apparent why this video, posted on Bleacher Report last May, is view-worthy.

The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Nelson, now a freshman offensive lineman at Notre Dame, performed 26 reps. Last year’s top performer at the NFL Combine, Boston College defensive end Kaleb Ramsey, posted 36 reps. Notre Dame junior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt registered 31, so Nelson’s high school number compares well to players who have been through college strength and conditioning programs.

“He’s made himself big and strong,” Jim Portela, Nelson’s coach at Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High, said, “but he really likes to mix it up.”

After redshirting this season, Nelson figures to find himself right in the mix for a starting job on the 2015 Irish offensive line. ND coach Brian Kelly recently offered that Nelson is working at left guard, which would indicate that Nelson is battling potential fifth-year senior Matt Hegarty for a starting spot.

Hegarty moved from guard to center early in the season as starting center Nick Martin flipped spots with him. A scenario in which Martin moves back to center next year with Nelson getting a crack at the starting guard job seems plausible. Earlier in the year, Nelson’s name was mentioned as a true freshman who could see the field this year, but instead it turned into a redshirt season.

“It probably makes great sense for everybody -- for him and for Notre Dame I’m sure. It makes a ton of sense to redshirt him and keep him for four more years after this year,” Portela said. “I think he understands that everybody’s looking out for what’s best for him and best for the university.”

What may be best for the Irish offensive line is the dose of nasty that Nelson reportedly brings. Size and strength aside, Nelson isn’t one to avoid playing until the final echoes of the whistle.

“The big thing about Quenton on the high school level was that he plays with such an edge. That’s what differentiates him from other offensive linemen,” Portela said.

“A lot of big guys sometimes can be gentle giants and Quenton was the type of guy who always wanted to finish his blocks. It wasn’t enough just to block the kid, he wanted to finish that block and put the kid on the ground.”

Nelson was able to do so against quality competition in talent-rich New Jersey, not only on the field, but during practice. Portela identified a number of former Red Bank Catholic players who have gone on to play in college, meaning Nelson wasn’t one who could get away with just being bigger and stronger than everyone else.

“He did have kids that could challenge him in practice,” Portela said.

Practice, however, was the extent of this year’s activity for Nelson, and there was a brief spell at Red Bank Catholic in which Nelson had to sit out games. He transferred to the school prior to his sophomore year and had to sit out a few games to satisfy transfer requirements.

“The very first thing that struck me was that you don’t see too many kids that look like him walk into your building,” Portela said. “So we were very fortunate.”

After that, though, Portela noticed something else about Nelson. Whether it be working with the scout team to help prepare the varsity, or running water bottles onto the practice field, Nelson jumped in with both feet.

“That really stuck with me,” Portela said, “that a player as good as he is -- nowadays a lot of guys it’s all about me -- he was always about team.”

Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson could work his way into a contributing role next year on the Irish offensive line. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)