Quenton Nelson is, outwardly, a “Quiet Giant.”
“I can be at times,” said Nelson, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive left tackle and defensive tackle senior, who has made a non-binding verbal commitment to Notre Dame.
However, appearances can be deceiving.
“Once, we get on the field, I’m vocal in practice, in the weight room and whenever I’m with these guys, my teammates,” Nelson said.
Nelson lives by the old saying: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
It is one of several reasons why he had 30 scholarships from NCAA Division I-A schools. Some schools recruited him as an offensive tackle. Others recruited him as a defensive tackle and there were some that would “have taken him on either side of the ball,” Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela said.
Notre Dame has recruited him as an offensive tackle.
“He enjoys offense,” Portela said. “The reason he’s recruited so heavily offensively is he plays with an edge offensively that a lot of big guys do not play with. He finishes his blocks. He gets down on kids and he blocks until the whistle blows.
“When he has to get downfield to block a linebacker or a safety, as the case may be, he hustles down there and finishes the block. It’s not like he gets there and walls the kid off. He gets there and finishes it and knocks them down to the ground.”
Portela said the first time he saw Nelson — the day in 2011 when he and his coaching staff were giving out equipment in the school’s cafeteria — Nelson, even as a sophomore who had just transferred to RBC from Holmdel, stood out.
“He was big,” said Portela, whose program already had several big linemen, including current Rutgers University freshman defensive tackle Josh Klecko. “You don’t get many transfers like that.”
Nelson was 6-foot-4, 245 pounds that day. The weight he has added since is pure muscle.
“The thing that I don’t think people realize is the work that goes into it,” Portela said. “He’s an incredibly hard worker in the offseason between lifting with us, lifting at the school and lifting on his own. Speed training, conditioning. He went out and worked with some coaches locally and hired guys to train him for football skills.
“When other kids see a kid that is already committed to a school like Notre Dame working as hard as he works, that’s great to have in a program.”
Last season, Nelson blossomed into a dominant player on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Nelson was an Asbury Park Press All-Shore First-Team selection. Defensively, he teamed with Klecko to form an almost unblockable interior for Shore Conference schools.
Then, in the spring, he got the decision that will dictate the next several years of his life out of the way. Nelson said he chose Notre Dame over Penn State, Rutgers, Boston College and Ohio State.
“It has the best combination of academics and football,” Nelson said.
Making the decision early will enable Nelson to concentrate on his academics and the season. Nelson has already taken the role of team leader, a role that was handled l by Klecko and his fellow seniors last year. RBC has gone a combined 20-2 the last two seasons, finished ranked No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 Poll and has won 24 straight against Shore Conference opposition over the last 2½ seasons.
“I’m just trying to lead by example and lead by using my actions,” Nelson said. “I’m also vocal, but we’re definitely going to miss Josh and all the seniors from last year. They were great teammates and leaders.”
Nelson will also spend the season on the offensive side of the ball refining his technique and learning how to use his hands and to get inside more. RBC has tweaked some of its offense to both match the athleticism of its offensive front and to make itself better equipped to be able to move the ball against some of the defenses it will encounter in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III playoffs.
Defensively, Nelson said he will try to lower his pad level. He knows he will face even more double teams this season because of the graduation of Klecko.
“He (Klecko) was able to teach me a lot, especially a lot of stuff with the hands,” Nelson said. “I’m trying to be as good, but it’s hard to be as good as Josh with your hands.”
One can bet that opponents on both sides of the ball will not find Nelson to be the “Quiet Giant” that he appears to be on the outside.