It seems like a lifetime ago that Chris Nelson was flinging the football all over the place at Wilmot.
From there, he traveled to Northern Michigan on a scholarship — but that lasted just one year before he decided to get closer to home.
The past two seasons, he’s been lurking in the shadows as a back-up at UW-Whitewater.
But now he has his chance. This is his time.
Nelson, a redshirt junior, is penciled in as the starting quarterback for the two-time defending NCAA Division III national champions, and a little more than a week into the pre-season workouts, he’s champing at the bit to get going.
“Camp has been going great,” Nelson said. “I really think the transition of new coaches has been very smooth. We also have a lot of senior leadership, which is ideal for us to keep our Warhawk tradition.”
Former Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold left shortly after the national title game last year to take over at Division I University of Buffalo and was replaced by longtime Whitewater assistant Kevin Bullis.
While 2015 marks the first time Nelson is at the front of the depth chart, he’s had some chances the past two seasons to get on the field.
In 2014, he appeared in all 15 games and finished the year with 318 yards passing and four touchdowns, including a 48-yard scoring strike in the first round of the playoffs.
Sitting in the background after a stellar high school career was anything but easy. But Nelson also realizes now it was necessary.
“The last three seasons have been a very humbling, learning experience,” he said. “Everyone wants to play and start right away once they get to college.
“Having to sit and watch can be difficult at times, but I think getting to see first hand what it takes to win conference and national championships will be beneficial to me when I get my chance.”
Former Whitewater standout Matt Blanchard, who is fighting for a job with the Green Bay Packers, has helped Nelson since his arrival on campus.
It didn’t hurt that Blanchard’s journey also went through Northern Michigan, Nelson said.
“I am grateful to get the chance to train with (Blanchard) in Madison all spring and a couple times this summer when he was back from Green Bay,” Nelson said. “It’s cool to get a chance to talk to him and hear stories from when he played here at Whitewater and also his experience in the pros.”
And the Warhawks’ starting quarterback the last two years, Matt Berhendt, also left his mark on Nelson.
“He was a great quarterback and taught me so much over the past two years,” Nelson said. “He also has been a great friend and mentor during spring ball and fall camp in helping me with the transition.”
If everything stays on track, Nelson will be under center as the starter Sept. 12, when the Warhawks travel to Jackson, Miss., to face Belhaven University, a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association.
There is no doubt there will be some jitters right before kickoff, Nelson said.
“I know for sure I will be pretty excited for that first game,” he said. “But this opportunity is what I have been waiting for. There will be excitement, but I will be prepared and ready to go.”
The Warhawks’ new coach is equally excited.
“It has been a long process to get to this point,” Bullis said. “We are very excited because we are on the doorstep of the season, and there has been an extreme amount of hard work vested in preparation for this season.”
Whitewater enters the season as the top-ranked team in the nation, but Nelson certainly isn’t running from those lofty expectations as he chases his third ring in three years.
“Playing football at Whitewater is always going to come with high expectations,” he said. “That’s why all of us came here. Just like the past two seasons, we approach it with a one-game-at-a-time mentality. Our only goal is always to win the (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).”
But that’s just the starting point. It’s safe to say, after all this time, Nelson is shooting much higher than that.