Nelson Featured In Daily Hampshire Gazette
Dec. 13, 2010
By JOHN STIFLER
I've been teaching at UMass since 1984 and just about every semester I get at least three or four varsity athletes in my classes.
This year, I got to teach a very good wide receiver who is also such a good student that ESPN last month named him to its Academic All-American first team. I refer to Anthony Nelson, a senior from Wellington, Fla., who transferred to UMass last year from Hofstra after Hofstra dropped its football program, and who promptly made an enormous impact with the Minutemen.
In his one season here, Anthony led the team with 57 receptions (ninth-best in UMass history for a single season), led the Colonial Athletic Conference in receiving yards per game (70.1), picked up 250 yards against Delaware and 190 in Gillette Stadium against New Hampshire, ran back punts and kickoffs.
And was a gentleman. And a superior student.
Among Anthony's statistics is a 3.88 GPA, with a major in economics. This week at the UMass Sports Luncheon, Anthony received the university's award for the 2010 Male Scholar-Athlete.
From antiquity, literature and philosophy are full of commentary about the value of a sound mind in a sound body, of physical skill to complement social and intellectual ability. These things long ago became clichés - which is not to say they aren't still true, and that their significance is too often and too easily obscured by the sensationalism of one-dimensional success on the field.
Anthony Nelson is a superb example of how sports can teach the whole person. And you don't have to be as fast, as quick, as talented as he is to understand how, when you are playing a physical game, you develop more than muscle memory and the ability to make routines out of those patterns the coach shows you. You learn about learning itself - about how you react mentally to a situation, how you go from understanding what you're supposed to do to figuring out how you can actually do it.
In the classroom Anthony was one of several talented students. My class that semester somehow collected an unusually high number of hot academic types, quick thinkers, assertive young people who asked lots of questions, challenged conventional thinking.
Anthony was the newest, just arrived from Hofstra, and from a home state far away. He didn't lead the class with receptions or returns - but he was never out of position, his grasp was sure, and he was definitely a starter. He always showed up with a good question in mind about the reading.
He's majoring in economics because, as he said at this week's sports luncheon, he found it immediately fascinating as a discipline. His focus on the assignments was as sharp as his focus on an end-over-end kickoff. If the class were the Patriots, Anthony would be Deion Branch - not flashy, but utterly reliable.
I've almost always been impressed by the UMass football team's attitude toward its students' academic responsibilities. Once or twice I've tried to teach a player who was at UMass only for football and had no clue or no motivation when it came to the classroom. All the others, even if they didn't have Anthony Nelson's academic aptitude, have shown up on time (or early) and contributed to the educational quality of the place. When one like Anthony comes along, it's an extra pleasure.