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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 31, 2017 7:10 pm

Notre Dame's Nelson aims for more as junior

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – It had been a foregone conclusion in some circles that left guard Quenton Nelson would leave Notre Dame early to go to the NFL. But he withstood the pull of turning pro for at least one more year.

Admittedly, that's hard to do.

"I was interested, but I felt I had a lot more to accomplish here," Nelson said Friday in his first media session of the offseason. "I wanted to come back and get my degree first and foremost. I mean, that's why we're here: to graduate. I also decided to come here to win a national championship, and those two things are just wanting to accomplish excellence and the reasons why I came back."

Nelson sent paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board to receive an evaluation.

What was the feedback? Nelson ain't saying.

"That's personal," he said.

The benefits of staying on the Irish would be loyalty to friends and to coaches, enjoying another year of college and perhaps becoming more football-mature. Offensive linemen usually benefit from playing an additional year in college.

Nelson redshirted in 2014 and played his freshman season in 2015. In each year, he learned from left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is now in the NFL with Baltimore, and Nelson picked Stanley's brain again this past winter about the NFL decision.

"Ultimately, it was my decision," Nelson said. "I solely made the decision, but I took input and advice from everyone for my own decision to come back."

New offensive coordinator Chip Long plans to speed up the tempo during the upcoming season. The Irish have talked about tempo before, but they appear serious this time around, and the early returns in spring practice excite even a 6-foot-5, 329-pound bruiser like Nelson.

"We've just been rolling with it and trying to go as fast as we can with the tempo," Nelson said. "It's been awesome. When you look at the film of last year, whenever we would go fast we would have pretty good success against defenses. We'd tire them out. They wouldn't have time to get set up in their blitzes, or when they did get set up in their blitzes they'd show them easily. We're going a lot more fast."

As an interior lineman who rarely gets beat, Nelson goes unnoticed most of the time. The two-year starter could have joined Stanley in the NFL but chose to stay for his junior season. As a result, Notre Dame has an utterly relentless blocker who could blossom into an All-American guard.