Stefan Nelson is trying to improve on a legacy that is becoming an East Ridge tradition.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound linebacker leads the Chattanooga area with 142.5 tackles (17.8 per game). He has had four games with 20 or more solos. He remains among the leaders in lost-yardage hits (23) and has 9.5 sacks.
“You hear it often about players, but he truly has a nose for the football,” Pioneers linebackers coach E.J. Bradford said. “A lot of his success has to do with instinct — probably 95 percent. He has gotten to where he goes with the flow and if the ball goes the other way he’s able to counter back to it.”
Nelson agreed, saying that he studied no more video than anyone else.
“I study what the coaches give me, but I feel like my real strength is reading the offense and knowing where the ball is, or where it’s going to be,” he said.
Bradford compared Nelson favorably with Gunner Miller, a former Pioneers linebacker who has worked his way into a starting role for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“Gunner was 6-0, 195 here and Stefan is 5-11 1/2 and 190, so they’re about the same size. Gunner is back to starting now at UTC, and Stefan is the same type athlete.”
Miller also was among the area high school tackle leaders in both his junior and senior seasons.
“He was a senior when I was a freshman, so I got to play beside him,” said Nelson, a four-year starter.
Of course, he loves to deliver hammer hits just as Miller did.
“As a linebacker you get to see the whole field. When you react there is no second-guessing your commitment, and you get to lay a lot of licks,” said Nelson, who was second in the area in tackles last year.
Despite his numbers, Nelson has had few prospect letters and fewer phone calls. He’s receiving letters from Carson-Newman, UTC and Middle Tennessee State, although the attention may pick up if other recruiters see the tapes of his showing eight days ago that included 21 solo tackles, eight assists, a tackle for loss and an interception he returned for a touchdown against East Hamilton.
“I’d love to play football at the next level and I’d like to stay at home and play at UTC, but I’m going to whatever school offers the best scholarship,” Nelson said.
That might include an academic scholarship from Alabama, which offered him an invitation to visit after meeting him at an invitation-only dinner at Hunter Art Museum. He has a 3.5 grade point average.
If there was enough academic money, he might could walk on at Alabama.
“He’s a college prospect, but I think his size will keep him out of SEC-type schools,” Bradford said. “I’d love to see it happen, but I have talked with Stefan and his dad. If it happens it would be great, but he probably would never play. If he went to a school more like UTC, he might have to wait a year or two, but he would get his chance.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...