As much as Kansas State football coach Ron Prince saw from Jordy Nelson as a football player, Prince was even more impressed with Nelson as a person. Which is why Prince predicts big on-field success and immense off-the-field fan popularity for Nelson, the first of the Packers' nine picks in last month's National Football League draft.
"Every little kid around Kansas has a purple No. 27 jersey. He's everything you'd want your son to be about,'' Prince says of the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson, who caught an astonishing 122 passes for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior last season.
"He married his sixth-grade sweetheart, who was one of my kids' teachers two years ago. This is all Norman Rockwell, small-town stuff here. I hope my boys can grow up to be like Jordy.''
Nelson married his wife, Emily, a kindergarten teacher at Riley County (Kan.) Elementary, a year ago. After going through the post-draft rookie orientation camp earlier this month, Nelson is set for what Emily's little students would consider the football version of the first day of school: the kickoff of this week's organized team activity practices, which are technically voluntary but should include most if not all the players on the roster.
Recently, Nelson talked about his transition to the NFL, the excitement of being drafted and life as a YouTube phenomenon with his highlight-reel catches. Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks with Jordy Nelson.
OnMilwaukee.com: So how's life in the NFL so far? Not bad for a kid who came to Kansas State as a walk-on quarterback and spent his first two years miscast as a safety, huh?
Jordy Nelson: It's a dream come true. It's been crazy, my time at K-State and now that it's developed into the NFL. I'm just on a ride and hopefully it continues. I don't think it has really hit me yet. I think once we get in here with the veterans and meet those guys and really get into the minicamps and stuff like that, it will become more of a reality.
OMC: Have you had one of those welcome-to-the-NFL moments yet?
JN: Not quite yet. It's close. It's getting there. I mean, sitting in the locker room and seeing all the posters and all the history that's in this building, it's quite overwhelming. But I'm enjoying it all and hopefully it just keeps getting better and better as the years go on.
OMC: What's going to be the biggest adjustment in the NFL?
JN: Just dealing with the all-around talent, I think. When you're in the NFL everyone's good and everyone's great, where(as) in college there might be a guy that's a little weaker than some people. Every week it's going to be a battle and you've just got to go all-out.
OMC: Your hometown is tiny (Riley's population is 886), so were you glad that the team in the smallest market in pro sports picked you?
JN: I was excited with the opportunity, being from a small town and then coming to Green Bay instead going to a big market (like) New York. That would be really overwhelming for me. I like the fit. Hopefully, we'll be here for awhile.
OMC: Your college coach, Ron Prince, was saying that you're not afraid to take a hit. He said they moved you around in the offense and, while you can get deep outside, you don't mind running slant patterns and crosses, where you could get drilled. Are you one of those guys who'll take one for the team?
JN: Definitely. That's something that I take a lot of pride in. You're going to get hit one way or another. You might as well catch the ball and get something out of it.
OMC: With Donald Driver and Greg Jennings set as the starters and last year's third-round pick, James Jones, having made a strong impression last year before kind of fading down the stretch, you're going to have to work your way up the depth chart. Does your experience in college doing exactly that help you?
JN: Obviously when you walk-on, you have to put that extra work and extra time in to catch the coaches' eye. But when the switch (from safety to wide receiver) happened, things just started rolling. I had a lot of help from a lot of coaches and a lot of players, and I just put in a lot of extra work. I think once you've experienced being at the bottom and working your way all the way to the top, making to the NFL -- and then we get here and we're back at the bottom again -- you know what it takes and the hard work it takes to get to the top. We haven't talked about where I'm going to be playing and what-not. Maybe it's just on special teams this first year. Or if it is offensively, hopefully I can fill in and do a good job. We threw the ball a lot at K-State, and hopefully we do a lot of that here.
JN: I've seen some, and I've heard other people talk about it. I couldn't tell you who's doing it.
OMC: For those of us who hadn't seen many Kansas State games, some of that stuff really grabs your attention. There's one of your blowing by Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib (the 20th overall pick by Tampa Bay Buccaneers) on a go route for a 68-yard touchdown, there's your 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Texas, and then my favorite: There's a pass thrown well behind you against Baylor, and somehow you reach back with your left arm and grab it. You turn upfield, shed a tackle and turn it into a 31-yard gain. Admit it, even you have to smile when you see that one replayed.
JN: (smiles) When you make catches like that, it's nothing you can really practice. It just sort of happens. You stick your hand back there and it kind of sticks. I think I do have good hands and I catch the ball consistently. Hopefully that'll continue.
OMC: When you flew in for the rookie orientation camp, what were you thinking about as you got closer to Green Bay? Did it look much like Kansas from your window seat?
JN: I think Green Bay's a little bigger, but flying in, it's very similar. Seeing a lot of the farmland, the agriculture, and then just the way they're talking about how the fans are, it's a lot like a college football town. I'm excited. I think it'll be a good fit. I can't wait to move up here and be here for a full year. My wife and I will be getting a house here this summer and move up here and hopefully be part of the community.
OMC: How much of your time at Kansas State overlapped with (now University of Wisconsin senior quarterback) Allan Evridge? He transferred from K-State to Wisconsin a couple years ago.
JN: I played one year with him. He redshirted one year (there) and then I played one year with him off-and-on. He actually sent me a text on draft day when he found out I was headed up to Wisconsin, to Green Bay. I saved his number, so hopefully we can get together and talk some more. I haven't really talked to him since he left K-State.
OMC: So who was the bigger Big Man On Campus, you or (basketball player and likely NBA lottery pick) Michael Beasley? Maybe he wasn't on campus long enough to be a BMOC, I don't know.
JN: Locally, I'm going to have to say myself because I came from a small town right beside K-State. Nationally, definitely Beasley, without a doubt.
OMC: Fair or not, people tend to look at guys like you and (Packers Pro Bowl defensive end) Aaron Kampman as overachievers who succeed because of their effort and work ethic, not because of their talent or athleticism. Your agent even said before the draft that you're "more than a try-hard white guy." Does that try-hard, high-effort thing undersell your ability?
JN: It doesn't matter. That's something I take a lot of pride in -- trying hard and working hard. I think that's how I got to where I am today. I'll take all the labels there are. It doesn't matter to me. I just want to be my normal self -- work hard, and do the things that got me where I am. Hopefully with being a full-time football player and not having to worry about school, I can improve my game.
Jason Wilde, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Greendale Martin Luther High School and the University of Wisconsin, is a two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award winner.