Canistota grad Nielsen called to serve in U.S. Navy
CANISTOTA -- Jerad Nielsen will be remembered as one of the top football players Canistota High School has ever seen. That's no small feat at a school with four state championships. But people will also remember Nielsen for what he does next. The...
CANISTOTA - Jerad Nielsen will be remembered as one of the top football players Canistota High School has ever seen.
That's no small feat at a school with four state championships.
But people will also remember Nielsen for what he does next.
The Canistota senior has selected a post-high school plan that differs from many prep football standouts - he'll attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
"It just feels right," Nielsen said about his decision to attend the Naval Academy. "It's something I want to do."
The all-time leading rusher in Canistota history with 3,430 yards admitted he had other opportunities to possibly continue his athletic career, but early on, the Naval Academy became his top choice.
"Looking at my options, it just seemed to me to be the best one," Nielsen said. "It's truly an honor to go there. I'm really lucky."
Also a standout basketball and track athlete, Nielsen's prep athletic career ends this weekend at the South Dakota State Track Meet in Sioux Falls, and this fall, he'll begin his four-year education in Annapolis, Maryland. After that, he'll be committed to the U.S. Navy for at least five years.
Compared to applying for state schools, the application process for the Naval Academy is much more difficult. Along with standard educational requirements such as class rank and ACT or SAT test scores, an applicant with the Naval Academy must receive an offer of appointment to the Naval Academy through an official source, such as a U.S. representative, a U.S. senator or the vice president of the United States. Nielsen applied for a nomination through Rep. Kristi Noem and Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune. Nielsen said he was interviewed by Noem's, Rounds' and Thune's committees before receiving a nomination from Thune in early December. Nielsen was offered an appointment with the Naval Academy in February. According to the United States Naval Academy website, in a typical year, approximately 4,000 candidates receive nominations but only 1,500 appointments are given out.
"I was lucky enough to find out early," Nielsen said. "Once I found out, I knew I had my future set."
Canistota athletic director Pat Jolley said he expects Nielsen to "excel" at the Naval Academy.
"That's quite an honor," Jolley said. "They look for self-discipline, great academics and responsibility. Those are all traits that Jerad has. I think Jerad Nielsen is exactly the type of person they look for in the Naval Academy."
Nielsen's father, Jeff, served as a captain in the U.S. Army and helped the two-time all-state selection learn about the Naval Academy.
"I think his dad talked about those values," Jolley said. "Jerad felt that was something he wanted to apply for and I think he'll fit in great there."
For Nielsen, the Naval Academy was "an awesome opportunity" that he couldn't pass up. He intends to become an officer.
"It's a huge honor to serve your country and give back to everyone that's helped raise you," Nielsen said. "I get to serve my country as an officer and the prestige you get from having a degree from an institution like that is hard to pass up."
Growing up as a Hawk
Before Nielsen makes his roughly 1,330-mile journey from Canistota to Annapolis, Maryland, he reflected back on his time in Canistota.
It's been quite a senior season for Nielsen as he helped lead Canistota (12-0) to the Class 9A state championship, which was the fourth football title in school history. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound speedster finished his senior season with 164 carries, 2,022 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more for my senior year in football," Nielsen said. "Winning the (state) championship was the number one goal and that's what we did. It turned out perfectly."
One particular game that Jolley and other Canistota fans will remember watching Nielsen, for years to come, happened on Oct. 2 in a game against Mount Vernon/Plankinton. Canistota defeated the Titans 56-30 and Nielsen tallied eight touchdowns in the game. He had 18 carries for 272 yards and added a 61-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the win.
"It was really exciting, because it was like a basketball player who couldn't miss," Jolley said about Nielsen's eight touchdown game. "It was something to see. He was very explosive that night."
Along with his accomplishments on the gridiron, Nielsen was a key player for Canistota's basketball team that won the District 8B title and fell one game short of making the state tournament.
Jolley said Nielsen treats everyone with the same amount of respect from teammates, coaches and fellow classmates.
"He's such a team player," Jolley said. "At the Naval Academy and in the military, they look for people that look out for the group. It's not all about yourself. That's something Jerad has instilled here."
Nielsen is currently finishing up his track career at the state track and field meet today at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. Last year, Nielsen placed seventh in the 400-meter dash with a time of 53.05 seconds as a junior. For this year's meet, he's qualified in the 400 with a season-best time of 51.8 and in the 200 (23.3) as well as a member of three relay teams (4x400, 4x800 and the 1,600-meter medley).
Nielsen said he hopes to place higher in the 400 and make the podium in the 200 or with a couple of the relay teams.
Jolley, who also is the head coach of the track team, said he expects Nielsen to cap off his prep career with a strong showing at the state meet.
"He's really coming on in track and a lot that comes from his strength and competitiveness," Jolley said. "He works really hard in practice and he sets an excellent example."
No matter how the state track meet goes for Nielsen, the future naval officer said he'll be proud of his accomplishments.
"I'll be happy with my whole career," Nielsen said. "Football will stand out the most. I'm going to miss all the practices, all the bus rides to games. All the moments around my friends and teammates."
Jolley said Nielsen is the first Canistota graduate since Max Mayer (2004) to attend the Naval Academy. In a town of just more than 650 people, Jolley said Nielsen thrived in the small town atmosphere and "was a great role model for everyone in Canistota."
"We'll miss the quiet way that he was able to lead," Jolley said. "Everybody looked up to Jerad and he leaves a big void as a super representative for our community and our school. He shows sportsmanship, knowing when he has a Canistota jersey on he's representing the school and the community."
Nielsen said he'll try to make it back to Canistota as often as he can in the future, but won't forget what the town and school has meant to him.
"It's been a big honor," Nielsen said. "I've grown up here my whole life and it's been special to be a Hawk my whole life. To grow up and play with all the kids that I have, it's just been special."