All-Area Football Offensive Player of the Year: Jake Nelson
Whether with his feet or with his arm, the Vikings quarterback led Lake Stevens on a magical ride this season and is The Herald's Offensive Player of the Year
All of these things define Lake Stevens senior quarterback Jake Nelson, who helped lead the Vikings to the semifinals of the Class 4A state football championships.
Nelson can add another title to the list of things that define him: The Herald's All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
Behind his 31 passing touchdowns and 16 rushing touchdowns Nelson earned the honor as voted on by local coaches.
Nelson has started at quarterback for Lake Stevens since midway through his sophomore season, steadily improving each season until he took the Wesco by storm his senior season, leading the Vikings to a 12-1 record and a Wesco championship.
With the senior leadership of Nelson and players like Korey Young, Cody Tupen, Christian Gasca, Shae Giddens and Brady Pahukoa amongst others, the Vikings made it to the Tacoma Dome and were just one win away from playing Skyline for a state championship.
Nelson had a successful junior season, leading the Vikings to a 7-3 record and a playoff appearance, but that doesnt even begin to come close to the things that he accomplished in his senior season.
The Vikings opened up the season with a dominating victory over Cascade and followed that up by squeaking one out against the Kamiak Knights, but they had proved little until they faced Arlington in week five.
The Vikings came into the season as one of the favorites in the Wesco along with the Eagles and were well on their way to great things before the Arlington game, but with their 42-32 victory over the Eagles on Sept. 30, Nelson said that is when the Vikings knew that this season was going to be something special.
"We knew it was going to be one of our toughest games and we went in there with the mindset that they arent going to beat us this year," said Nelson, "especially at their house. We went in there and we beat them up pretty good and I was like, 'Wow, we really got something going this year.'I just knew that, even Tri said, that this was special. We just went in and took it to Arlington one of the best teams in our league and we just knew we could take it so much further than in previous years."
And the Vikings did just that. They marched to an undefeated regular season and gained even more momentum as the playoffs went forward until they met Skyview in the semifinals.
"Once we got to the playoffs we never bickered or anything on the field like some teams did and that hurt them,"Nelson said. "We all just came together and worked hard and made the season way better than in previous years."
Nelson's connection with his top two receivers, seniors Brady Pahukoa and Christian Gasca, was undeniable. Both players provided Nelson with reliable targets throughout the regular season and the Vikings playoff run.
"Before the season we got together like almost every day and threw," Nelson said. "Before workouts and after workouts every day.
"The years before we didn't really do that. They just all did their own thing. And this year we just all worked together and built timing and chemistry and it just showed on the field."
One of those Gasca touchdowns came in the waning moments of the Vikings state playoff game against Olympia. The over-the-shoulder catch by Gasca in the back corner of the end zone proved to be the game-winner and sent the Vikings to the quarterfinals against Eastlake.
The catch was the second of three plays in the final minute of a game that defines Nelson's competitiveness on the field.
Trailing 17-14 with just over a minute to play in the Olympia game, Nelson was called for intentional grounding. A play later he took a sack, leaving the Vikings to face a third-and-43.
But Nelson wouldnt quit.
He ran for 59 yards on that third down to save the Vikings season.
"We called a wheel post route, Gasca was running the wheel and Brady ran a post over the middle and I honestly just didnt want to throw it,"Nelson said. "I dropped back and they were dropping up the middle and I saw a hole open up on the left side and I just started running and then I looked back to the other side and cut back and I just remember my heart beating so fast. I saw a hole open up and ran through it and was just freaking out. I couldnt believe I was running wide open down the sidelines."
Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said even though the situation looked grim, he believed in his senior quarterback.
"I saw a very competitive kid who just wouldn't quit and let his natural playmaking abilities do the magic for him," Tri said. "When he took off I thought,'Let's just get 20.'In a split second I realized how open he was."
Nelson said it was the intentional grounding and the sack on the previous plays that ignited the competitive fire.
"After the intentional grounding and the sack, I was so mad,"Nelson said. "I was just breathing hard, I looked at Tri and I was just pissed. He just looked at me and nodded his head and I think after that he knew that we were going to get it. I wasn't going to lose, I'm sorry, but I was not going to lose that game, especially after that. I honestly don't really remember because I was so mad."
The chances may have looked bleak, but Nelson's run made them seem a bit more promising.
"When he ran it for 59 yards I liked our odds better," Vikings quarterback coach Lew Widmann said. "And then he threw the best pass he has ever thrown at Lake Stevens High School."
Two plays later, Nelson delivered that pass to Gasca. After the extra point, the Vikings took a 21-17 lead, but there was still some time left on the clock. If the Bears had any dreams of quickly driving down the field for the game-winner, Nelson crushed those too, intercepting the Bears quarterback to put an end to the game.
The ending of the Olympia game had enough magic for nearly an entire season. After seeing it, it was hard to believe anyone would beat the Vikings.
"I thought we were going to take it all after that game too," Nelson said. "I didnt think anyone could beat us."
But the dream run came to an end against Skyview as the Storm slowed down the previously potent offensive attack of the Vikings.
"They were bigger and more physical I think,"Nelson said."I think we were faster, but they just had the mindset that they were bigger than us and stronger.
"It just got away from us too quick."
Despite coming up short of the state championship Nelson said that the season was very much a success.
"Before the season, nobody thought we were going to go this far,"Nelson said. "Some parents or teachers would ask me if we are going to win any playoff games this year, and I was like, 'Yyeah, we have got a good team.Nobody expected us to win three or four playoff games like we did and get to the Tacoma Dome and get third place. It was just amazing. I knew we could do it, but other people didn't believe. And we just proved them wrong and it was an incredible experience to get that far and it just means so much to the whole community."
Nelson's father, Lee, said that every player on the Vikings team did their job this year.
"They all did their jobs," Lee Nelson said. "I think that is kind of what the season came down to."
Nelson is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback with size 16 feet who just led his team on a dream season, but surprisingly his list of college offers is vacant. After his senior season, he is beginning to get some looks. The University of Idaho has shown some interest, while Central Washington University appears to be the most serious pursuer at this point.
When Nelson was asked what schools were looking at him after his junior season, he simply shook his head. No one had any interest at that point. But looking at what his team accomplished and what he accomplished individually in 2011, it is hard to believe that list hasn't grown exponentially.
Nelson said he is trying to stay optimistic and hopes the offers will come.
"I'm just being patient and I'm just waiting for it to come,"Nelson said. "My coach just said to calm down, its going to happen."
When the right school does come calling, Nelson hopes the transition is smooth.
"I just want to go into a place that fits me and I want to be their guy,"Nelson said. "I want to start early, if not next season. Kind of like this, I want to be on a good team. I honestly don't know, I just know I have to work hard to get what I want."
Tri said that Nelson's lack of offers is surprising to him.
"It surprises me a great deal," Tri said. "I don't understand what colleges are looking for. It's not like he has a lot of negatives."
Despite the lack of looks so far, Nelson still dreams big.
"My dream is to play in the NFL," he said.
If CWU does wind up being the team that gets him, there is a former Wildcat quarterback that Nelson could model his career after, Dallas Cowboys backup and former Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Jon Kitna.
"They talked to me about it when they called me, they talked about Kitna," Nelson said. "I like Central a lot, it's a cool school."
"It is very rare (making it to the NFL from a small school), but it does happen," Tri said. "That doesn't mean it can't happen. It just means that they have to take a different road to get there. Jon Kitna is a good example of that."
Nelson said that Central has told him that he is No. 1 on their recruiting board at the quarterback position.
Tri said Nelson is going to make some school very happy.
"Someone is going to land him and be extremely happy that they got him," Tri said.
Nelson hasn't always been a quarterback. He started as a running back until Widmann discovered a hidden talent when Nelson was in the seventh grade.
"I was a running back in seventh grade," Nelson said. "We did a running back pass and I threw the ball and completed it for like 45 yards or something like that. It was like the third practice and he looked at me and said I wasn't playing running back anymore."
Widmann told Nelson that he would be playing quarterback the next day.
"I was like, 'No I'm not, are you crazy?' He was like, 'I don't care what you say, you are playing quarterback.' "
Nelson has played quarterback ever since.
Widmann and Nelson run the Air Academy for younger kids in the area before the season and while the two use it as a chance to help the up-and-coming players, Widmann also uses it as a chance to coach up his prized pupil.
"I'm like the big guy there and all the other kids are smaller, but he makes me do everything and he makes me do everything perfect," Nelson said. "If I am doing something wrong he is going to tell me. In front all the little kids, he is like, 'Well he did that wrong little kids, so he has to do it again."
In one game-winning drive against Olympia Nelson achieved what to many seemed to be the perfect run and the perfect pass and he did it in a matter of three plays.
But what play gave Nelson the most satisfaction? His answer proved he's a quarterback at heart.
"Definitely the pass," Nelson said. "The pass, it was incredible, there isn't even any words to describe it. I couldn't have done that play without Jake Fabian, our center. I watched the film over and over again and I didn't catch it until about the 100th time I watched it I bet. I dropped back and I stepped up and you see No. 60, Fabian, there is a guy blitzing up the edge and Fabian runs and dives at him and pushes him out of the way. And I step up and throw and I get hit. That's probably the best pass I have ever thrown, just right between two guys. That was an incredible catch too."
Nelson is always one to give credit to his teammates and before the interview concluded, he made sure to share his award with the people that have protected him throughout the season.
"I want to get my lineman in there, I couldn't have done it without them obviously," Nelson said. "There is Jake Fabian, center, David Backstrom was the left guard, (Cody) Tupen was the left tackle, Devin Guy was the right tackle, Carey Campbell was the right guard and there is Brandon Johnson, who also played left guard. Shae Giddens also, the running back because of his blocks and what he did."
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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