Cornell's Loss Was a Big Win for Justin Nelson and Williams Football
By Wyatt Khosrowshahi and Georgia Lord
Eph senior wide receiver Justin Nelson grew up in Brandon, Mississippi and for most of his senior year at Northwest Rankin High School he was sure he was going to play for The Big Red at Cornell University. Nelson had visited Cornell, Harvard, Davidson, Belhaven, and Rhodes before settling on Cornell. "Williams was not on my list," he said. "I had never heard of Williams until March of my senior year in high school."
Nelson took to football at an early age and in fifth grade, he wrote a short book about LaDainian Tomlinson, the Hall of Fame running back for the San Diego Chargers, which only fueled Nelson's passion for the game.
Justin Nelson had been heavily recruited by Cornell University and he intended to enroll there the fall after his high school graduation and become a part of that school's football program. Nelson had been in consistent contact with the Cornell coaching staff for many months, and the stage was set for him to take the next step and commit to the Big Red.
In a completely unpredictable turn of events, Nelson's arrangement with Cornell fell through in March of his senior year! All of a sudden the 18-year old was left scrambling with most colleges now having already filled their recruiting needs. As it turned out the coach who spent the most time recruiting Nelson at Cornell was the first person to mention to Nelson that he should contact the Williams College football staff.
When Nelson reached out to the Eph football staff he was encouraged to make plans to visit the campus, meet the coaches, the players, and attend some classes. "My host was running back Connor Harris and hanging around him and the other guys on the team made me feel welcome," Nelson said. "That was a huge reason I committed to Williams."
In a short amount of time Nelson had gone from the edge of despair in finding out late that Cornell was not going to be an option for his collegiate football experience to committing to Williams. Nelson is quick to point out that his time at Williams as a psychology major and football player has been a most positive experience. "I chose to be a psychology major because I'm very interested in how/why people make decisions," Nelson said.
"I've learned a lot about myself over the last three years here, Nelson added. "Being away from home and family presented opportunities for me to grow into the person I am today, and I'm thankful for the experiences on and off the field that contributed to that."
In his three years on the field at Williams, Nelson caught 57 passes for 865 yards and he scored four touchdowns. He returned 19 kickoffs 472 yards for an average of 24 yards a return and he averaged 11.0 yards a returning three punts.
When asked about his favorite memory representing the football Ephs Nelson points to the team's victory over arch rival Amherst in 2019, where he had a game-high seven catches for 123 yards (17.6 yards/catch) in the Ephs' 31-9 win. In the aftermath of a homecoming win over Little Three rival Wesleyan or Amherst, the Ephs march in game uniform out the gate of the Weston Field Complex, turn left up Latham Street, and then turn right and go up Spring Street, the heart of Williamstown, singing the college fight song, while being cheered on by fans. Every Williams football player who has experienced this moment cherishes participating in "The Walk."
"My favorite memory is definitely beating Amherst this past season (2019)," added Nelson. "I am happy that my last game was also one of my best games in the Purple and Gold and I got to do it in front of so many great teammates, friends, and members of the Williams community. The best part about Williams football is the relationships I've built over those three years."
"Justin has been an integral part of our football team the past three years," Eph head coach Mark Raymond stated. "He made an immediate impact on our offense and special teams when he arrived. Justin is a self-made player. He has great attention to detail in his route running and when studying our opponents. He was always someone that we could count on. He played his best in our biggest games in 2019 and he was great down the stretch against Trinity, Wesleyan, and Amherst. Justin was also a great role model for younger players. His work ethic and selflessness were an example to everyone."
While many of his Eph teammates and classmates opted to take time off from school in the fall of 2020, Nelson made the difficult decision to return despite not having a season in which to compete. The decision was made because it was what was best for him and his family and he is extremely happy with what he has been able to accomplish in the Purple Valley thus far.
While Nelson remains unsure of exactly what he plans to do after college, he notes, "I'm very open minded about the whole job process right now, and I know that wherever I am and whatever I'm doing is exactly where God wants me to be." Always thoughtful about his sense of purpose and direction, Nelson credits his faith as a guiding force for keeping him on track both on and off the field.