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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Chasing a dream

Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Cam Nelson checks into the Arizona football office at 7:45 a.m. Fourteen hours later, the former three-year UA starting safety finally clocks out around 9:45 p.m. — and that’s on a good day.

“The latest I’ve gotten out is about at 11:40. Every day is a grind,” Nelson said. “Friday and Saturdays — those are the easy days. Sunday through Thursday though, man, those are long days.”

Nelson, who’s currently serving as Arizona’s coordinator of football operations, spends those hours breaking down film and analyzing stats to deliver to the man he calls “Zen Master Mike,” Arizona head coach Mike Stoops.

Although he’s always been a self-proclaimed “film guy” and a coach on the field, Nelson’s watched so much film that SportsCenter is starting to give him headaches.

“I watch so much film now that I don’t even want to watch ESPN or nothing when I get home,” Nelson said with a laugh.

But Nelson said he hopes those grueling 14-hour days will soon be worth it.

The former UA standout safety — 208 tackles, 11 pass break-ups and an interception in 50 games (38 starts) — is on track to become Arizona’s graduate assistant when, he says, Stoops “feels my knowledge is up to par.”

But becoming a graduate assistant is only the first step to Nelson achieving his goal of becoming a longtime college football coach. According to coaches and players, he has the makeup.

“He played here and he’s a smart guy,” said UA secondary coach Ryan Walters, who is the second-youngest Pac-12 assistant and took the same player-to-coach route Nelson is embarking on. “That kind of was my story and what happened during my path to get to this point, and I could easily see him following that same route.”

Ending up the Arizona coordinator of football operations wasn’t exactly Nelson’s original plan, however. After wrapping up a solid playing career that featured technically sound play and All-Pac-10 honorable mention in 2008, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound strong safety tested the NFL waters.

But despite his productive play as a Wildcat, Nelson went undrafted. He eventually earned a tryout with the Chicago Bears but wasn’t able to stick.

Nelson knew he wanted to stay in football, so he turned to coach Stoops for an opportunity. Nelson volunteered during the spring season and officially joined the UA staff last summer.

While he’s been putting in work in the film room, Nelson’s also given input to the secondary, namely working with sophomore cornerback Shaquille Richardson after practice.

“He’s able to help out a lot of the young guys and show us our mistakes and show how he learned from his mistakes so it helps out a lot having him out here,” said safety and former teammate Robert Golden. “I feel like he’ll be a great coach some day.”

Nelson said it still feels weird at times watching from the sidelines and not playing in games. When the team struggles, he wants to go out and make a play. But one thing hasn’t changed for the former safety: Nelson still has Stoops in his ear.

“It’s about the same I would say,” Nelson said with a chuckle.

Nelson’s quickly earning his stripes in the coaching realm and if all goes as planned, he’ll be in the college coaching circuit in a few years. Walters and Golden both agreed Nelson has what it takes to become a successful coach, but the 23-year-old has a few requests for his first coaching gig.

“It would have to be (at Arizona),” Nelson said. “If not here, somewhere in the SEC with a dual-threat quarterback but he’s got to have the brain of Nick Foles. And Rob Golden is in my secondary. Rob Goldens and T-Wades in my secondary.”

Nelson is years away from achieving his ultimate goal, but he’s on the right path and, like Walters, could very well become one of the youngest assistants in the Pac-12 soon enough.

“We have a lot of similarities; just young, eager,” Walters said. “Like I said, he was a great player here and he’s got a bright future in this business.”

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