Gamedayr recently caught up with former Florida Gators star and current Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson. Nelson discussed his rehab from ACL surgery, the turbulent offseason of many of his past teammates, and his relationship with Urban Meyer. He also talked at length about his charity i’mME, which provides food, shelter, and education for orphan children in Haiti, as well as his new platform Sudden Change Challenge.
Gamedayr: How’s your knee doing?
David Nelson: Knee feels great. I’m ready to get going. I’m anxious to get going.
GD: Is this the first time you’ve had an injury like that?
DN: First time ever.
GD: I can’t even imagine.
DN: It’s been tough. Coming in undrafted, then working my way to being the guy, and once I finally get there it’s all kind of taken from me. Then we get to training camp and I have another setback. It’s been a long year.
GD: Have any of your buddies ribbed you over Adrian Peterson’s superhuman return.
DN: (laughs) I got that from the very beginning. But so many guys have come back strong. Look at Wes Welker, he came back and tore it up the following year.
GD: It seems like Dr. (James) Andrews has the Midas Touch. I picture his waiting room like a Sportscenter commercial with athletes all hanging out. What was it like visiting him?
DN: He’s seen everyone, that’s for sure. I actually joked around with him, comparing my looks to all the other freak athletes. He’s got a great personality, and an uncanny ability to remember people and where they came from. He’ll sit there and tell you all kinds of stories. You can tell he loves what he does, and there’s a reason why he’s the best. He really focuses on every person.
GD: Yeah, you don’t want the guy only performing a couple of surgeries a year to keep his license. You want the guy who can do it in his sleep.
DN: Absolutely. Seeing all the signed jerseys, it really puts your mind at ease knowing that the best in the business is going to work on you. It gives you peace of mind knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not because of the person operating on me.
GD: So what’s a normal game day like for you?
DN: It depends what time the game is. Night games give you a lot of time during the day. I always try to go on a walk before, listen to music, and just escape. Get my blood flowing. What helps me is prayer and reading. Keep my mind active, but take a step away from football a little bit. Make sure I have things in perspective and that my mind is working, not turning on and off.
GD: What’s on your playlist?
DN: I have a lot of different stuff, mainly Christian music. Everything from Third Day, to Jesus Culture, Hillsong (United), Kari Jobe, MercyMe, all the classics.
GD: What are you reading right now?
DN: Radical by David Platt.
GD: Since our site is out of Gainesville, my editors would get pretty ticked if I didn’t ask you some Florida questions. It’s been a pretty rough offseason for all your fellow Gator alums.
DN: (chuckles) That’s putting it lightly.
GD: Do you stay in contact with many of those guys?
DN: Yeah, a good majority of them. I talked with Ahmad (Black) the other day. (I) talk to (Riley) Cooper every once in a while. Obviously me and Joe (Haden) play together. Timmy and I stay in touch and we see each other a few times in the offseason. I’ll see Major (Wright) this week. We stay in touch for the most part.
GD: You ever get blown up by Major? He has some vicious hits.
DN: I have never been laid out by him, thankfully, but I’ve seen what he can do, hah.
GD: Have you talked to Cooper since that whole snafu?
DN: Yes, I have.
GD: How’s he doing?
DN: He was pretty broken up about it. It was really tough on him. He knew he made a mistake. He really values the relationships he has with his teammates and friends, and that was broken. A lot of trust was broken; a lot of relationships were broken. For him that was the hardest part. The media blew it up, and he had all the scrutiny from fans and different forces. But for him the hardest part was his teammates and his friends that he hurt them and messed up those relationships. If you know Riley you know how loyal he is to his friends and how much he cares about the people closest to him.
GD: In today’s world it seems like there’s no room for error. Everyone has a recorder or camera. Everyone has a forum and an opinion. Take somebody like him, who you never hear a bad word about, and boom, he’s now a pariah.
DN: Yeah, that’s the unfortunate part about it. You can spend so long building your reputation or your image. You do 100 good things in a six or seven year span and then all of a sudden do one thing and everything is just tainted. From now on that incident will overshadow everything he does. I feel he handled (the fallout) really well. He was very humble and upfront, and he came out and apologized. It’s one of those things where he will continue to overcome it and earn trust and relationships back.
GD: Does it make you more reticent with the media? Seeing how quickly things can turn on you?
DN: That’s just life. That’s how it is with relationships and life. It’s all about the ‘what have you done for me lately’ type world we live in. I’ve dealt with that on a media scale, a friendship scale, and on a family scale. I feel like everywhere you go society has evolved to, if you do (something bad) you’ll get scolded, but if you help somebody it’s a different mentality. In times like this you can really tell who cares about you, and who is on your side. I think the people that have stayed close to (Cooper) have shown their true colors and really shown him who he can count on.
GD: It’s a tough situation.
DN: It’s just because I know him. I know his heart and know that’s not who he is. He made a mistake, and I don’t condone what he said and what he did. He actually text me and apologized to me. It’s not like he had any reason to apologize to me, but he had some things he felt bad about. I believe in forgiveness, and he’s working hard to rekindle relationships with the people who have lost trust in him.
GD: It’s good to see him man up. So are you in the boat with everyone else, just blindsided by the (Aaron) Hernandez situation? Did you see that one coming?
DN: I’m not going to comment on that one. I’m staying away from that story completely. I declined all media requests during training camp just because I get asked questions about Cooper, Percy, Tim … and now Aaron.
GD: Do you have much contact with Coach Meyer now that you’re both in the same state?
DN: Yeah, he actually reached out to me a few days ago. Just to see how I was doing. He keeps up with a lot of his guys. He text to see how my knee was doing. (He) invited me to come over to Columbus to see his family, see the house, and have dinner. I know this offseason has been tough on him, with all the attention he’s been getting because of some of his former players. He’s been reaching out to some of the guys he’s close with that he can trust just to talk about things. I definitely cherish our relationship. Anytime I can have a chance to stand up and go to bat for coach Meyer, I’m going to do it. I love that man and love what he’s done for me.
GD: It seems like there are different stories from what was written during his time at Florida. In 2006 local publications made it seem like he was a disciplinarian. Now, seven years later, the press makes it seem like inmates were running the asylum. Was there a status quo?
DN: He definitely cared about his players. There was definitely a standard, and he demanded that all the players lived up to that standard. Everyone was held accountable. Coach Meyer was involved with every player. He knew the player’s schedule, their family, their girlfriends, if they had a kid. These stories about how he turned a blind eye are completely false. He took time, investing in every single one of us. It breaks my heart to see what he went through, because I know how much he cared about each player. So many guys have come out of that system to do great things and lead great lives. It’s unfortunate two or three bad eggs have ruined it for the rest of us. Coach Meyer’s most important quality is that he’s not investing in you just as football players, but investing in you as young men.
GD: A lot of the bad press about Coach Meyer is coming from Gainesville and UF alums. Is it tough to look back fondly on your alma mater when the fans who cheered for you are now critics of your coach and his tenure?
DN: That’s one of the beautiful things about Gator Nation: their passion. They expect the best and they won’t settle for anything less. They demand that from their coaching staff, their players, their administration, their school, and their university. And it’s something that I’m so proud to be a part of, that they demand excellence. They demand accountability. In my opinion that’s why the program is so successful just from top to bottom. Not just athletics, but the university and academics. I’m proud to be an alumnus there, proud to be a Gator forever, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.
GD: Speaking of rabid fan bases, you’re with one now in Cleveland with the Dog Pound. Is it weird having people bark at you and it be a positive thing?
DN: I’m still learning the tradition, but the passion and fans are great. It’s been fun so far and I’m excited to see what we can put together for the season.
GD: I’d like to talk some about your charity i’mME.org. When did you first visit Haiti?
DN: A little over a year and a half ago. I’ve been five times since the initial visit.
GD: When did you realize it was in the cards for you to start a charity and help out the kids over there?
DN: The first day I was there. I knew there was something God was calling me to do there; I just didn’t know the capacity. At that time I didn’t think I would start my own non-profit organization. I just knew there was work to be done. It wasn’t until a couple of trips later with my brothers that I figured it out.
GD: How instrumental have your brothers been in establishing the charity?
DN: They’ve been the most important part. If it weren’t for them it wouldn’t be going. We’re all equal partners in our roles within the organization. They have just at much influence as I do. I just happen to get interviewed about it more because of my platform. I’m so humbled by their willingness to serve with no attention. It’s really humbling to see how they’re willing to work and serve with no notoriety. It’s humbling to me.
GD: That’s the cornerstone of charity. It’s about the people you help, about being selfless.
DN: Absolutely, and they’re the definition of that. They’re the people who inspire me to do this. This is the calling God’s given us, and they’ve given their entire lives for these kids. They don’t always get attention for it, but that’s the mark of a true servant: going at it for the sake of the kids. That’s what this organization is founded on. It’s not about our names; it’s about these kids we’re trying to save. Giving these kids a platform to raise their name; giving a voice to the voiceless.
GD: Can you explain the Sudden Change Challenge?
DN: It’s an opportunity for people to combine their love for the NFL with giving back. Log-on to SuddenChangeChallenge.com and pick a team you want to be a part of. All 32 teams are represented. After you choose a team, you can pledge a dollar amount towards a big play. Whether it’s a rushing touchdown, passing touchdown, interception, fumble recovery, victory, or whatever. Whenever that outcome happens, the money you’ve pledged goes into a pot. We have a weekly leaderboard based on the donations won by each team. We wanted to find a way to combine our love for kids with the platform of football. If you pledge $5 for every Browns touchdown, every time there’s a touchdown you can celebrate both for your team and the fact that you’ve given $5 to charity. It’s a fun way to engage such impassioned fans.
GD: Do you ever get on Weeden to kick up the offense, because you’ve got money riding on each touchdown?
DN: (Laughs) No, I don’t want to add any pressure. It’s all for charity and we’re just excited about the amount of people we’ve had step up so far. We hope it catches on and that we’ll get people to jump on board, grab their buddies, and make their team the most charitable team in the NFL. We have a bunch of guys around the league stepping up as ambassadors for their teams, donating game-worn jerseys, shoes, gloves, and other prizes. We want to make it fun for everybody. Any chance NFL fans can compete against other teams, they’ll take it and run with it. They want to be best on and off the field.
GD: Awesome. So week one, what kind of stats can I pencil you in for?
DN: Oh man, I’m just trying to get past week four of the preseason. (Laughs) I haven’t played in a year, so my first game will be this Thursday in Chicago. I’m just trying to get past that and get healthy. But shoot, I’ve learned not to limit what we can do, so maybe cross that 100-yard mark and a couple of touchdowns.
GD: There you go. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. It’s really great to hear about all the charitable work you’re doing. Hopefully we can get to a point where positive stories like yours will dominate the press over negative ones.
DN: Thank you. It’s not about me. It’s about the kids, about putting them on a platform. Because if I don’t, who will? I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help those kids.