Scott Nelson still remembers his teammates, coaches and playing in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star football game. Fast forward 30 years and Nelson is now coaching in the very same game.
But what makes the moment even more special is that he will be coaching his son, Cooper, a star wide receiver and recent graduate of Sun Prairie High School, when the Large Schools South Team faces the North at 5 p.m. this Saturday at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh.
“It’s a great way to come full circle,” said Scott, a 1989 SPHS graduate.
Scott was a three-sport star at SPHS during the late 1980s, shining in football, basketball and track and field before going on to play football at the University of Wisconsin. Ironically, Cooper chose the same path (save two years of baseball) and this fall will be a preferred walk-on wide receiver for the Badgers football team.
Nelson was chosen as an assistant coach by McFarland’s Paul Ackley, who will be the head coach of the South Team.
Nelson has been an assistant coach with his alma mater for a number of years, and in the past served on the same staff with Ackley in McFarland.
“I had coached with Paul over at McFarland and had a relationship with him there,” said Nelson, who was honored to receive the call to coach again with Ackley. “He called and said: ‘Hey, would you like to be an assistant coach?’ I said: ‘I’d love to, but I’m not sure Cooper would want me to be, it depends on the position you’d want me to coach.’ He asked me to coach the (defensive backs) and Cooper will be playing wide receiver.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
Nelson also coached Ackley’s nephew, Ethan, a standout linebacker/tight end and a 2019 SPHS graduate.
Nelson is one of a number of Sun Prairie coaches selected to coach in the annual all-star game. Others have included former head coach Mike Hahn as well as current head coach Brian Kaminski and assistant Tim Bass.
“He played at Sun Prairie back in the day and it’s always good to have somebody around that understands the program and what Sun Prairie football is all about,” said Kaminski. “He’s been in a lot of big-time moments and at different levels, and he’s able to translate that to our young players.”
Nelson fondly recalls playing in the 1989 classic, then known as the Shrine Bowl.
“I remember my coach to this day, Jim Strommen, a long-time football and baseball coach at Pecatonica; I still remember our time there and the great relationships I made,” said Nelson.
And, oh by the way, who won that game? “We won 21-0,” said Nelson, who along with Matt Hahn represented Sun Prairie that year.
Scott, a cornerback, played with and against a number of future Badgers teammates in that game. Some of them, along with Nelson, helped resurrect the struggling UW football program that went on to win the school’s first Rose Bowl in 1994.
“Between the North squad and the South squad, I bet there were maybe eight future Badgers on those two teams,” recalled Nelson. “At the time we were competing, kind of sticking our chests out, and then afterward there were handshakes and after a week off we reported to camp as Wisconsin teammates.”
Nelson remains close to the UW football program, working on Badger gamedays for 101.5 WIBA FM radio.
Nelson and the coaching staff previously met with the players.
“We told them to have a great time and enjoy the week and the experience,” he said. “What’s really cool is the chance to share some time with them, to get to know them a little bit, and then watch them how they react when they talk to the young kids that will be coming from the children’s hospital.”
“They’re smart kids, they understand the game and can play, so you don’t have to do a lot of over-correcting or over-coaching.”
Nelson will also get the opportunity to coach another SP grad, Ben Johnson.
“I’ve known Ben and his family for a long time and the best way to describe him is a gentle giant,” said Nelson. “I still remember coaching him in youth basketball, always smiling and having a blast.”
Johnson and Cooper Nelson continue the strong tradition of Sun Prairie players chosen to play in the all-star game. Last season, the Cardinals had four players, Marty Strey, Khalan Coleman, Josh Dinga and Anthony Villaneuava, play in the classic.
“I think there’s a lot of respect for our program; people see how our kids are coached, how and how hard they work,” said Nelson. “It’s a pretty cool thing for our community to have kids playing in all-star games.”