Rutgers sends off seniors in primetime battle vs Penn State: Derrick Nelson

This story originally appeared as a premium article on by Garrett Stepien on Nov. 18, 2016, republished with permission from site manager Sam Hellman.


Photo credit: Sam Hellman /

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Saturday night is the last ride for many Scarlet Knights, including the team captains that tell their stories and multi-year starters set to say goodbye.

Football became Derrick Nelson‘s life when he was kid. Regardless of what the next chapter holds, Nelson brings what he learned from the game at Rutgers with him.

“(Football) helped me a lot, just based on the fact that you learn how to deal with losses, you learn how to deal with wins, coachability,” he said. “I mean, things like that transfer into the work place. You learn how to deal with criticism.”

Nelson still has two more times to suit up as a Scarlet Knight. The first is Saturday with Senior Night against No. 8 Penn State.

“The biggest thing for me is going to be controlling emotions,” Nelson said. “This game is important to me just because of the whole fact that it’s my last home game and my family’s going to be there. My mom hasn’t made it to many games, but I’m very thankful for the fact that she’s coming along with a lot of my other family and they’re able to see me play one more time at High Point Solutions Stadium.”

A senior captain and a two-year starter at center, Nelson brought a distinguished presence to Rutgers as a leader on and off the field.

But his teammates were the ones to lift him up when he needed it most.

Nelson hit a rough patch midway through his career and questioned his love for the game. Darius Hamilton, Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Vance Matthews — now his housemates — helped him get through it.

“Those guys really helped me through some rough times here because there was a point where I struggled in my love for football,” Nelson said. “I had problems with passion for the game and living with those guys helped me realize it wasn’t a problem with the passion, it was just me getting through my rough patch. … They helped me realize that it’s just me and my confidence level and realizing who I am.”

Through the adversity, Nelson takes his experience into his final two games. He understands the value that Senior Night holds, but not because it comes against the Nittany Lions and their College Football Playoff hopes.

“I think that’s the biggest thing for me is finally realizing that my college career is coming to an end and I think that’s how most seniors see is … how do they want to leave this field?” Nelson said. “So that’s the biggest thing for us. What’s the legacy going to be for us on this field that Saturday?”

Whatever comes after the season, Nelson will embrace it. He plans to train for the NFL Draft and continue his football career, but will pursue his passion in human resources if that doesn’t pan out.

“I like working with people,” Nelson said. “I think there are things that I can do in that (human resources) field after football that I think I can do really well. I think that it suits my values well just based on the fact that HR typically deals with structure and that’s basically been what my life has been for the past five years (playing football for Rutgers).”

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