UO Florida imports eager for matchup
EUGENE — The Rose Bowl will create a Civil War in parts of Florida.
Charles Nelson grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla., before traveling across the country to play at Oregon this year. He’ll get to face the team he rooted for as a kid when the second-seeded Ducks (12-1) face third-seeded Florida State (13-0) in a College Football Playoff semifinal in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 1.
“Quite a few family members and friends will be watching the game and a lot of them will be rooting for me,” the 5-foot-9, 170-pound wide receiver/running back said. “A lot of them went to Florida State so they will be rooting for their school, but we will see what happens. When the matchup came out, I said, ‘We’re playing (my) hometown. It is time to turn it up a notch.’”
Running back Tony James, another member of Oregon’s 2014 recruiting class from Gainesville, Fla., said his decision to play at Oregon led to trash-talking in his family.
“My aunt is a big Florida State fan, she’s always talking junk to me,” James said. “My mom told me ‘You have to beat Florida State’ because my aunt is taking so much junk.”
Teachers and students at Nelson’s alma mater, Seabreeze High School, will have to root for him or his former teammate, Barrett Kernon, a long snapper for the Seminoles.
“We talked about it,” Nelson said, adding that his conversation with Kernon came before the matchup was finalized. “He’s happy for me and I’m happy for him.”
Growing up, Nelson dreamed about playing for the Seminoles.
“I was a big fan of Florida State,” he said. “My father was a big fan, it was our family team. I went to two or three games and watched them a lot on TV.”
Former Florida State quarterback Thad Busby was an assistant coach at Seabreeze who tried to get FSU to look at Nelson.
“They kind of recruited me until I tore my ACL and then they backed off,” Nelson said. “My coach knew Jimbo Fisher and he was trying to help me get there and then nothing happened so I had to make the best of it.”
Nelson found plenty of other schools interested in his all-around talents, including Florida and Miami, before signing with the Ducks.
“Coach (Scott) Frost came along and I just went with it,” he said.
Nelson has been paying attention to the Seminoles this season as Oregon prepares to face them in two weeks.
“They have a great offense,” Nelson said. “They know how to face adversity and come back from big situations and pull it all out. It will be a tough game, but a great game to play.”
The 5-9, 180-pound James said Florida State was his “second or third choice.” A former high school teammate plays for the Seminoles and he competed against some other FSU players in track.
James is sitting out a redshirt season this year as he prepares to join the backfield next year.
“I feel like I have learned a lot,” James said. “I learned how to read a hole, how to be patient with plays. Scout team has taught me to be a better running back. I got bigger and mentally tougher, too.”
Oregon junior defensive back Issac Dixon is from Opa Locka, Fla. and now the road to the national championship for Oregon must go through the defending national champions from Tallahassee, Fla.
“Playing against players from back home will be a great experience,” Nelson said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Nelson could be a key factor for the Ducks in many ways against the Seminoles as a true freshman. He’s been a force on special teams all year and has earned more time on offense during the second half of the season while compiling 17 catches for 266 yards and five scores and running 11 times for 93 yards.
“I hoped I would play this much,” he said. “I came in and wanted to get on the field. I didn’t care what was possible, special teams or whatever coach wanted me to do. I was willing to do it. With all the opportunities I got, I tried to make the best out of every situation.”
Nelson has found many roles for the Ducks and hinted there may be even more plays for him after a month of pre-bowl practices.
“We’ll find out,” he said.