Selma High athlete DaKaari Nelson on path to college football career

Published 6:27 am Saturday, October 15, 2022

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By Travis Gupton

The Selma Times-Journal

With Selma being such a small city it is always an awesome thing when something or someone amazing comes out of the city and gets national recognition.

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DeKaari Nelson is one such person. Nelson, an athlete on the Selma High School football team, has recently committed to play  at Penn State.

“It was a long hard decision,” Nelson said. “For me, since I visited Penn State they were my top program. From that point, it was a very close race between them and Clemson. They ended up pulling away on my official list. With the way they treated my family and my brother that really sold it for me.”

From the moment that Nelson stepped on the campus of Penn State, he knew it was the school for him.

“On my official visit over the summer, we went into a lot more detail,” Nelson said. “They told me how they wanted to use me. We got to see the town a little bit. We got to see some players and see how they interacted with each other and other commits and recruits.”

During the recruiting process, Nelson was not the only one getting phone calls and texts from colleges, Saints head coach Willie Gandy also received phone calls and texts.

“It wasn’t my first rodeo,” Gandy said. “ I have already experienced several times in this recruiting business with these kids. They were not as high-profile athletes as DeKaari has experienced but I have been around the recruiting world for a minute now. It was not a surprise for me. Yes, the coaches are going to call all the time every day. Every coach wants to know the same things. How is home life? How is he as a kid? How is he on the field and off the field? They want to know all those things.”

Throughout the process, there was a constant in Nelson’s life. That was his family.

“They were excited,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t their first time either. They had gone through this with my brother. He had got recruited really heavily. There were a lot of big-time names coming after me though. They were asking if this was real with some of the names that were recruiting me. They were very supportive of my decisions. Every visit I took they asked more questions than I did.”

Nelson enters his final  games as a Saint and says once he made a commitment, he can focus more  on playing.

“It relieves a little pressure for me,” Nelson said. “ Now I can focus on the team and my academics. Those kinds of things I still need to do at Penn State. I focus heavily on helping the younger kids. They are going to be the ones that fill my shoes when I leave. So, I focus on helping them a lot. I want to make sure I get everything handled here before I go up there and handle business.

Nelson has not decided on a major, but he said Penn State is getting a player who knows the game of football.

“I am a very versatile player,” Nelson said. “ I am very smart and I can recognize formations well. I can call audibles based on formations.

Coach Gandy, however, says that Nelson could be something special.

“I think he could be the next Micah Parsons,” Gandy said. “I know he wants to play on the backend and be a safety though. I know in 9th grade and 10th grade we played him on the edge. He was getting 9,10,11 sacks in a season. When I look at him (DeKaari) I see something completely different. I hope I am wrong. I hope he plays safety and he does well.”

With only a few games left in his senior season, the reality of the situation has hit Nelson.

“At the beginning of the season it didn’t hit me but now, it has started to hit me,” Nelson said. “ It hit me that we have two regular season games left. We are less than 14 days away from my regular season being over. It’s starting to hit me now.”

With all this going on, the Saints are likely bound for the Class 5A state playoffs next month. After the season ends, Gandy summed it up well on how important DeKaari is to the Saints.

“It’s hard to replace a four-year starter,” Gandy said.

“ With all his measurements and all the things he has done with the program, it’s going to be hard to replace someone like that. It’s definitely going to be a definite blow to us. In the coaching world, however, I feel like we need to just go to the next man up. That person has to come up and pave his way. Kids like DaKaari come around once in a lifetime so we can’t say do it like DaKaari did it. After this season we are going to lose a lot I can say that.”

After this season, DaKaari will have the support of the entire city of Selma when he goes to Penn State and that means a lot.  “It feels great,” Nelson said. “I’m not from Selma. When I got here no one knew me. Everyone knew my dad because he is the principal. When I got here no one knew me. “As I progressed through high school. I started to get recruited more. I got more popular and more known as well. Now, everyone knows me and everyone cheers and supports me. It gives me motivation.”