Nelson, who spoke at the Big Orange Caravan on Monday at the Carnegie Hotel, follows the recruiting battles and is optimistic about the collective recruiting resumé of the staff assembled by new Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin.
Nelson hopes Memphis product Marlon Brown, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound receiver, will end up in Knoxville.
“I never thought I would be one that did follow recruiting (closely), but these last four or five years it’s been kind of a hobby for me,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of like an offseason medicine after a year like last season (at Tennessee).”
One of Nelson’s players, 6-5, 305-pound offensive lineman Preston Frye, is expected to sign with Austin Peay.
“They think he’s really got a chance to play there early,” Nelson said. “He’s got that height they like and he’s got pretty good feet. He had an excellent year. He played guard, he played tackle and we ended up playing him on defense more than we really would’ve liked to.”
Nelson coached and Frye played in the National Guard Kentucky-Tennessee Border Bowl on Jan. 17 in Williamsburg, Ky.
“It was a big deal,” Nelson said. “The National Guard does a fantastic job. They had tanks, they had helicopters coming in. I don’t think it got over 15 degrees the whole week of practice and the field was frozen solid. It did get up around 28 degrees on game day and there was around 4,000 people there.”
Kentucky won 26-20 in a game — Nelson will tell you — that had a Kentucky officiating crew. Nelson mentioned the performance of Science Hill’s Issac Kinley, who more than held his own at cornerback while working against quarterback Tony Guidugli.
“Issac Kinley had a really good game playing cornerback against a Division I quarterback,” Nelson said. “He played outstanding. Their quarterback was a big-time player. I think he’s signing with Cincinnati.”
Kinley is expected to sign with Carson-Newman.
“The game really helps kids with exposure,” Nelson said. “I hope more and more coaches around our area will see the importance of it.”
Dobyns-Bennett linebacker Zach Fleming and Morristown West skill players J.J. Goforth and Tyrell McKinney also played in the game.
Johnny Majors was still at Tennessee when Nelson signed out of Sullivan South. One of Nelson’s most vivid memories is from his freshman season in 1992.
Vols such as Horace Morris and Todd Kelly were going around making sure all of the freshmen were well-groomed for their initial season.
“I guess that was back when hazing was legal,” Nelson said. “Players held every freshmen down and shaved their heads totally bald. We showed up for practice the first day and Coach Majors thought we’d all done it (by choice), or at least he didn’t let on like he knew anything.
“He probably thought we were the most uniform group of young men he’d ever had.”
Nelson roomed with Scott Galyon. He was fairly close with the likes of Bill Duff, Shane Burton and Peyton Manning.
“Peyton was there my last two years,” Nelson said. “We kind of learned to play golf together. His golf game really excelled and mine went the other way. Flexibility issues hinder my game.”
Nelson has been on his game at East, instilling pride in a program that wasn’t teeming with tradition. His Patriots went to the playoffs in 2004 and 2007. They won 10 games in 2004 and seven in ’07.