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Laress Nelson spent most of the week leading up to National Signing Day unsure of where he would end up.
For the previous eight months, the American Heritage (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) wide receiver had been stuck on seven offers: Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina, Fresno State, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State. But without any Power 5 schools in the mix, no one stuck out.
Nelson came to school on Jan. 26 and was met with a surprise. In the office sat Michigan State wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel. The two had never spoken, and the surprise made up for a lot of the preceding ills.
“That was a rough week, going into Signing Day a week later,” Nelson said. “I was down to a few schools, but no major schools, so when (Michigan State) came down, it was special.”
It would only get more special. Samuel extended an offer to Nelson. A day later, the 5-foot-10 senior left on a flight for East Lansing and his official visit. Hosted by cornerback Austin Andrews, Nelson saw everything he had hoped for on the visit.
“I got there, and everyone welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “It felt like family. I loved the campus, loved the business department, the coaches, the players. They gave me a great feeling.”
— Laress Nelson ® (@kidreese_1) February 1, 2017
If he could have committed right there, he probably would have. But it’s rarely that simple. The Michigan State coaching staff made it clear to Nelson that he would have to wait to see if a spot opened.
Even as Nelson woke up on Signing Day, he didn’t know where the day would take him. He didn’t check Twitter to see who had committed where. He got dressed, supported his high school teammates who would sign and awaited his fate.
A little after 9 a.m. ET, Spartans wide receiver target Jalen Tolbert opted to stay home and commit to South Alabama. Nelson didn’t see the news firsthand but got a text from Samuel shortly afterward. The spot had opened.
“That was crazy,” Nelson said. “It was a life-changing decision because that was a tough week for me, not knowing where you’re going to go or where your future’s going to lead you. That felt great.”
Nelson said his mother, who works at American Heritage and stood beside him, “broke down a little bit.” He called his aunt, who screamed over the phone.
And most important, he made sure to sign and fax his letter as quickly as possible. An opportunity had opened, and he wasn’t about to let it go.
— Mark Dantonio (@DantonioMark) February 1, 2017
Now officially a member of Michigan State’s 2017 class, Nelson plans to compete. He’s not satisfied being a part of the program. He wants to make a mark.
“I just want to go out there and make a difference and stand out,” he said. “I want to go out there and compete with all the other guys. I’ve got a long way to go.”
So, now what?
Nelson has played basketball in the past, but this year, he decided to go a different route. He chose to run track for the first time in preparation for college football.
“I actually just learned how to run going into my senior year,” Nelson said, “so I had to get everything down pat. I knew that would make a big difference going into college, so I needed to get that down soon. I knew that’d get my game to a new level, so I joined.”
Of course, he knew how to run. Programs had shown interest because of his speed and quickness, after all. But through the help of coaches, he learned the intricacies of running.
“I know how to open up more,” Nelson said. “I was a very stiff guy. I’m just learning how to run, how to work my muscles, my legs, hips and all that flexibility down pat.”
Nelson runs the 100, 200 and 400 meters, and he’ll potentially do the long jump. He prefers the former two because sprinting is his specialty.
Track, he feels, has helped him immensely with what he’ll bring to the football field. He’s developing better breakaway speed, learning how to open his hips more and getting faster out of his breaks.
On weekends, he works out for football. Two weeks ago, he joined former Michigan State WR Macgarrett Kings, a fellow Fort Lauderdale native with whom he occasionally works out. Kings was thrilled to see Nelson sign with his Spartans.
“He loved it,” Nelson said. “It’s the same type of style, so he knows exactly how I could go and produce. He just put a little bug in my ear to let me know to stay on track, focus and maintain.”
Michigan State hopes Nelson can produce like Kings did. He’ll likely be a slot receiver primarily but can be used on the outside, as well.
Nelson, on the other hand, hasn’t really had time to process what he wants to get out of college. He knows he wants his business degree and wants to find success on the field. Better specifics will come with more research.
He didn’t even know Michigan State could be a possibility one month ago.