STOUGHTON — Barrett Nelson began his high school football career as a defensive lineman.
But the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Nelson, a Stoughton senior, always figured the offensive line would come calling. And, in turn, become his calling.
After all, Barrett Nelson’s father, Todd, played offensive line for the University of Wisconsin and his older, Jack, currently is the program’s starting right guard as a redshirt freshman.
Barrett Nelson’s time at UW is coming, too.
Nelson, who’s playing right offensive tackle and along the defensive line for Stoughton this season, orally committed to UW on an official visit in June. Nelson, recruited as an offensive lineman, said he plans to enroll early at UW after graduating from high school in January 2022.
“Even before Jack committed there — obviously, my dad played there — I kind of grew up in the Wisconsin O-line culture, living so close to Madison,” he said this week at practice leading up to Friday’s home game against Monona Grove. “Once Jack committed there — it was eighth grade for me — I lived my early high school days going to his recruitment visits there and just being around the whole recruitment process for him.
“Then when it came for my time, I just saw a lot of the things I really value in a football team and in a program in the Badgers. I’ve seen it my whole life and lived through it. I think in the back of my head, I always knew it would be Wisconsin.”
Despite the family ties to the offensive line and UW, Stoughton football coach Jason Becker said Barrett Nelson “is his own person.”
“I think there was a lot of initial pressure maybe because of the success Jack had had,” Becker said. “But what I always have appreciated about Barrett is, Barrett has never tried to say, `I need to be my brother.’ He has forged his own path.
“I think starting on the D-line his freshman and sophomore years gave him a really good understanding of what it is offensive linemen are trying to do to the defensive linemen.”
Still, there are plays when Barrett Nelson — the offensive lineman — reminds Becker of Jack Nelson.
“I’m remembering a play back in the Oregon game (in the opener this season) when I watched him get himself under a defensive lineman,” Becker said. “We call it, `The Forklift,’ where he got the guy onto his heels, drove him back and took him to the ground. And it made me think that I was watching his brother play again because that was Jack’s M.O. (modus operandi). Jack’s goal was to clearly bury the guy he was blocking every single time.”
Barrett Nelson, who said he rolled his ankle playing on defense against Portage on Sept. 3, is expected back Friday for Stoughton (1-3 overall, 0-2 Badger Small Conference) against Monona Grove (3-1, 1-1) after missing last week’s game against Baraboo due to illness and the injury.
“Friday night really showed where we missed him on the offensive side of the ball,” Becker said. “We struggled with a lot of pressure off that right edge.”
Full Nelson workouts
In his first two high school years, Nelson had daily practices lining up against his brother.
As a junior, Barrett Nelson transferred and played football for Fall River/Rio in fall of 2020 because he said he didn’t know whether Stoughton would get to play football during the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vikings wound up playing during the WIAA’s alternate fall season last spring.
He then decided to return to Stoughton this fall, which Becker said was approved by the WIAA as part of COVID-19 accommodations, and is part of an offensive line that includes senior left guard Gabe Rousseau, a Minnesota State-Mankato commit.
“It was just a year of uncertainty, I think, for everybody,” Nelson said. “So, we made the decision that playing football was better than not playing football because nobody knew if there would be a spring season or not. It kind of broke my heart to leave and leave these guys behind. But that’s why I was so thrilled to be able to come back and finish my senior year with these guys. I did what I had to do to play football.”
Added Becker: “When he made the decision to come back, I was beyond happy to welcome him back. This senior group is a group of guys he has grown up with, he has played youth football with, he played basketball with and he’s done everything with his entire life.”
His junior season for Fall River/Rio really was his first full taste of playing offensive line.
“I’m still young at this position,” he said. “Being a hard worker and tenacity can only get you so far. I want to fine-tune my skills on the offensive side of the ball. With my height and being so tall, I’d like to just continue staying low. That’s usually a problem with guys my height.”
Becker appreciates Nelson’s desire to learn, which includes talking to his older brother about offensive line play.
“He’s never come in with the mindset: `Hey, I know things. Do you know who my brother is? Or who my dad is?’ ’’ Becker said. “He’s probably one of the most coachable young men I’ve ever had in our program or that I’ve ever been around in my coaching career. He’s always looking for ways to improve — whether that is using film or doing individual stuff — to be his best possible individual or best possible teammate.”
Leader by example
That includes a focus on leading by example to help his team succeed.
“I’m not a big guy for doing all the stats and figuring out the conference and schedules,” Nelson said. “I just want to win the next game and the one after that.”
Becker said Nelson early on had a frame that indicated he might be suited for playing defensive line or tight end.
“Over the last two years, through a lot of commitment and dedication to eating right and strength and conditioning, he’s really filled out that frame to where he is more of the offensive line mindset and body type,” Becker said. “And, of course, watching his brother compete at the next level with the Badgers certainly helps because it helped him understand what it is going to take and what to do. And it helps him build a relationship with coach (Joe) Rudolph (UW’s run-game coordinator-offensive line coach) and to know what to expect when he transitions to that next level at Wisconsin.”
It didn’t surprise Becker that UW, with its offensive line tradition among its players and coaching staff, was Nelson’s choice for college football.
“I think that continues to carry so much incredible weight — the tradition Wisconsin has and the success that coach Rudolph has had developing not just quality college offensive linemen but guys that have gone on and had extremely successful careers in the NFL,” Becker said. “I really struggle with anybody who wants to pursue playing the offensive line at the next level not highly considering Wisconsin to be one of the best opportunities and one of the best places to do it.”
The Nelson family tradition also seems to be continuing. Nelson’s younger brothers Will (a sophomore) and Max (an eighth-grader) also play football. And, yes, they both play offensive line.
For now, Barrett Nelson is savoring his senior season in the Stoughton program.
“I’m super-excited to finish out my high school career on a high note and get down to campus in January,” he said.
Badger Small football preview: 10 players you need to know this season
Luna Larson, sr., QB/LB, BarabooUpdated
Larson had his hands all over the Thunderbirds’ resurgence last fall. The 6-foot, 190-pound Larson totaled a team-high 77 tackles (32 solo), four tackles for loss, three sacks and three forced fumbles to earn WFCA Large Schools All-State honors. He also was a second-team selection as an all-purpose player on The Associated Press 2020 All-State team (for the fall season). The NCAA Division I recruit rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, while passing for 785 more and eight more scores.
Kane Mahoney, sr., RB/LB, BarabooUpdated
Already a varsity regular for the Thunderbirds entering his third varsity season, Mahoney looks to become an even more significant contributor this fall. The 5-foot-10, 160-pounder helped on both sides of the ball last season, rushing for 207 yards and four scores on 33 carries, good for third on the team. Defensively, Mahoney added 28 tackles, including a dozen solo, to go along with six sacks, three tackles for loss and an interception return for a touchdown.
Drew Evans, sr., OL/DL, Fort AtkinsonUpdated
The 6-6, 250-pound Evans will be a key lineman for Fort Atkinson, including on offense, where he’ll be leading the way for senior running back Alec Courtier. Fort Atkinson coach Nick Nelson likes Evans’ work ethic and what he brings to the team, saying: “You can’t help notice him when he’s playing.”
Tyler Dahlhauser, sr., WR/DB, Monona GroveUpdated
Dahlhauser was a first-team selection as a defensive back on the AP All-State team for the alternate season in the spring. He also was a WFCA All-Region selection last spring at defensive back. The 5-9, 175-pound Dahlhauser had a team-high 59 tackles, including 44 solo takedowns, and totaled six tackles for loss, four sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and an interception. Offensively, he caught 18 passes for 376 yards and six touchdowns.
Tyler Buechner, jr., RB, Mt. Horeb/BarneveldUpdated
Buechner had a breakout sophomore campaign during the alternate fall season and Mount Horeb/Barneveld coach Bret St. Arnauld expects Buechner to be a threat on offense due to his speed, quickness and vision. He rushed for 277 yards and three scores over four games.
Ethan Bleich, sr., RB/LB, PortageUpdated
The 5-foot-8 Bleich is a punishing back who rushed for 265 yards and six touchdowns on 48 carries in three games last season. The strong start (88.3 yards per game, 5.5 yards per attempt) was cut short by a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but he’s scheduled to return this season.
Jaden Kikkert, sr., WR/DB, PortageUpdated
Primarily a run-first team, Kikkert added a great receiving option to the Warriors last fall. The 6-foot-1, 165-pounder hauled in 21 catches for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns, good for 14.5 yards per reception and 43.2 yards per game. Kikkert, one of the top sprinters on the Warriors track and field team this past spring, boasts plenty of breakaway speed to become a top deep threat.
Bryant Yanke, sr., QB, ReedsburgUpdated
Yanke, a dual-threat quarterback, accounted for almost 1,000 total yards of offense in his first year under center for the Beavers, including a team-high 404 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 128 attempts. He also threw for 526 yards and four more scores and could be more of a passing threat this fall with his top three receiving threats also back.
Damien Wright-Rodriguez Jr., sr., QB, Sauk PrairieUpdated
Wright-Rodriguez Jr. showed promise during the Eagles’ winless season last fall. The 6-2, 165-pound dual-threat signal-caller threw for 440 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was a running threat, adding 250 yards rushing in his first year as starter.
Barrett Nelson, sr., OL/DL, StoughtonUpdated
After transferring to Fall River/Rio last year, Nelson is back with the Vikings this fall, according to Stoughton coach Jason Becker. Nelson, who has orally committed to the University of Wisconsin, had a stellar junior season, earning first-team All-Trailways Conference honors as an offensive and defensive lineman. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder adds plenty of size up front to an already deep line that includes Gabe Rousseau, who’s orally committed to Minnesota State-Mankato.