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GWINNETT GRADS: North's Nelson finds right fit at Arizona State

Robert Nelson, after sitting out the 2011 season for a transfer, intercepted three passes and played in all 13 games last year for Arizona. The North grad was at his best against rival Arizona with an interception and three pass breakups, then added another pick in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Robert Nelson, after sitting out the 2011 season for a transfer, intercepted three passes and played in all 13 games last year for Arizona. The North grad was at his best against rival Arizona with an interception and three pass breakups, then added another pick in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Robert Nelson fondly remembers his first visit to Tempe, Ariz.

Sure, he was wearing a Louisiana-Monroe football uniform. Sure, his team lost to host Arizona State 38-14 on Sept. 14, 2009.

But it was an experience he couldn’t forget.

“When we played ASU freshman year, I said it then, ‘This feels like home,’” Nelson said.

That thought remained in the North Gwinnett grad’s head throughout his two seasons at Louisiana-Monroe, which included playing on the Warhawks’ basketball team as a freshman. He played through a hip injury that later required surgery during his 2010 sophomore season and still managed to make 55 tackles (45 solos) and intercept two passes, returning one for a score.

The success on the field didn’t make the defensive back happy, though.

“I was depressed after every game,” Nelson said. “I felt like I needed to be somewhere else.”

That place turned out to be Arizona State.

The Sun Devil coaches liked what they saw from Nelson during that freshman matchup with Louisiana-Monroe, and they wanted him in Tempe. At first, they didn’t have a scholarship open, and Nelson had other scholarship offers from Division I schools who saw tape of his matchups with receivers from places like Auburn, Arkansas and LSU, but he decided to walk on at Arizona State.

He didn’t have to, however, when the Sun Devils had a scholarship spot open for him.

“It’s been a blessing, I’m definitely thankful to be here,” said Nelson, now an Arizona State senior. “I feel free, like I was at North Gwinnett. I transferred from Tucker to North Gwinnett and the transition to Arizona State felt like that. The campus life is great. The facilities are great. The whole city, the living situation. It’s all great.”

The situation has worked out well for Arizona State, too.

Nelson, after sitting out the 2011 season for the transfer, intercepted three passes and played in all 13 games last year. He was at his best against rival Arizona with an interception and three pass breakups, then added another pick in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

The 5-foot-11, 173-pounder’s stellar play has continued into this season. He has 21 tackles (15 solos) and an interception for the Sun Devils, who are 3-2 heading into tonight’s game with Colorado.

Nelson, who plans to be the first member of his family to graduate college in December, also hopes to give the NFL a shot after college. But he doesn’t think about that much right now, preferring to focus on his final season at the dream school he eventually found.

“That’s just God, just being faithful,” Nelson said of his journey to ASU. “If you’re trying to do things right, if you’re working hard, good things will happen.”

FOOTBALL

Cox on Jerry Rice list

Dacula grad Marcus Cox is one of 20 players on the initial watch list for the Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the nation’s top NCAA Division I FCS freshman.

Just five games and three starts into his Appalachian State career, Cox leads the Southern Conference in touchdowns (10), scoring (60), receiving yardage (415) and TD receptions (five). He has averaged 227 all-purpose yards since joining the starting lineup.

Shankle gets league honor

Georgetown junior defensive end Richard Shankle, a South Gwinnett grad, was named to the Patriot League Football Weekly Honorable Mention list after a career-best game vs. Princeton.

Shankle had 11 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries again Princeton.

SOCCER

Daigle gets league honor

North Gwinnett grad Kolby Daigle, a freshman soccer player at Truett-McConnell, was named the Appalachian Athletic Conference defensive player of the week on Monday.

He anchored a defense that shut out Point and Toccoa Falls the previous week, as well as tying Bob Jones 1-1.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.