BROOKINGS-Kanin Nelson dreamed about being a South Dakota State quarterback.
With one semester in the books, the dream is going better than expected.
The former Mitchell Kernel quarterback became the first football recruit in SDSU history to attend the school a semester early after graduating from MHS in December. Nelson has settled in Brookings-where he's living this summer-and working a summer job like many college students.
He's also relishing the jumpstart he got on his college education and athletic career.
"It was awesome and it was the best decision I've made, to come up here and get used to things," Nelson said in a phone interview with The Daily Republic. "I'm a 100 percent ready for the school year and not worried at all. It was a good idea."
After leading the Kernels to a 7-4 record and the Class 11AA semifinals in the fall, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound signal caller showed off a seamless transition to the Division I level by stealing the spotlight during SDSU's annual spring game on April 23 in Brookings. Mitchell's second all-time leading passer was able to take plenty of reps with the second-team offense throughout spring practices because of an injury to Zach Lujan.
"Right away, I didn't expect to do much throughout spring ball," Nelson said. "I got pushed up to the second quarterback and that was awesome for me. It was a great experience."
Leading the second-team offense, Nelson finished the spring game 8 of 12 passing for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while running nine times for 57 yards and a touchdown.
The Jackrabbit offense beat the defense 62-47 with Nelson leaving an impression on SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. Two months after his breakout performance in the spring game, Nelson reflected on whether or not he imagined he could put together such a strong public debut as a Jackrabbit.
"Honestly no, not right away," Nelson admitted. "I didn't expect to have anything like that. It just happened to play out and I couldn't be more thankful for opportunity."
Crediting his fellow quarterbacks Taryn Christion and Lujan, as well as the entire SDSU coaching staff, for helping him transition early, Nelson also praised his high school coaches and various football camps he attended for preparing him.
"The first semester I learned a ton," Nelson said. "Learning the playbook was what I needed to learn and those guys (Christion and Lujan) helped me."
Learning and growing into the quarterback position has been Nelson's calling card since he took over as Mitchell's starting quarterback at the beginning of his sophomore year. His steady improvement peaked during his senior year when he led the Mitchell offense to recording setting numbers. In 2015, the Kernels racked up a total of 3,757 yards of offense and rushed for 2,994 yards in 11 games. Both were single season records for the MHS football program since 1981.
Along with an adjustment to the collegiate lifestyle, Nelson noted he had just as many adjustments to make on the football field.
"It's a lot different with the speed of the game and how smart the players are," Nelson said. "The coaches know a lot and they put it in your hands. It's a whole different level, but you mentally prepare for it and it comes with getting reps and the time being around it."
Nelson said all three SDSU quarterbacks are putting in time together to help the Jackrabbits improve on their 8-4 finish a year ago. Both Christion and Lujan are expected to battle for the starting quarterback job after both split time behind center in 2015. Nelson, along with Dalton Douglas and Chris Little, will battle for SDSU's third-string spot and there is a possibly for Nelson to be redshirted for his freshman season.
"Right now we're lifting, with 7-on-7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays," Nelson said. "I'm excited to start the season and work my way. Hopefully, I'll be traveling and that's my goal, to hopefully get to travel with the team."
Before the Jackrabbits open football camp on Aug. 3, Nelson will officially cap off his prep career at the South Dakota High School All-Star Game on July 6 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Nelson along with 83 other high school players were selected to play the game.
"I signed up to play and I wasn't sure if I'd get the clear to play after playing in college," Nelson said. "I got that all cleared and I'll get to play. It'll be fun to go back and I have a lot of buddies from other towns that are on the team."