Kiel Nelson has been all-in, even before he was able to practice with Dakota Wesleyan University.
And now, the Tigers are all-in on the Mitchell native, naming him their starting quarterback heading into Thursday’s season opener at Dakota State University.
“He understands our offense really well, especially reads and different things we can do,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “… We understand what the quarterback position is -- that guy has to be a leader and both (Nelson and Zachary Lester) represent that. Some of the run game and different things we want to do, Kiel’s a guy that can get it done for us.”
The four-quarterback battle, which dwindled to Nelson and Lester by last Thursday’s fall scrimmage, went well into fall camp. Nelson waited for his moment, watching a quarterback room add and subtract bodies all offseason until Cimpl announced a starter Monday.
The Tigers saw Kansas Wesleyan University transfer Anthony De La Torre move to wide receiver after being the only signal caller on the roster to start spring camp. Third-string true freshman Jordan Etter took reps at receiver at times, too, while Lester rejoined the team midway through spring ball after he wasn’t expected to play this season due to a heavy school workload.
“Zach’s a guy we have a lot of confidence in,” Cimpl said. “He’s played in games, a guy who’s continuing to work and take reps against our defense.”
Through the addition and subtraction of DWU’s quarterback room, Nelson stayed constant. He attended spring practices and summer workouts, then flashed his talent through fall camp. It proved to be enough as the 6-foot-4, 195-pound quarterback started the fall scrimmage and will do the same at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Madison.
“He was able to watch spring ball and take it in,” Cimpl said. “And in the summer, being able to work out with the guys, get coached up from those guys and learn what we’re doing, it helped the learning curve.”
It also helps that Nelson was a proven runner during his time with the Kernels, which translated into fall camp.
He’s also reconnected with DWU receiver Spencer Neugebauer for the first time since they shared the field winning the 2016 Class AA state championship as a dynamic quarterback-running back duo with the Kernels. Nelson will be asked to throw to DWU’s top receiver more than ever, but forcing teams to pay attention to him hasn’t changed.
“Defensively, (it’s tougher) if we have to face a quarterback that has the ability to run,” Cimpl said. “That doesn’t mean he has to be a 1,000-yard rusher, but he has to extend plays, move in the pocket and he has to get three yards when you need two yards. It’s harder to defend.”
Notes: Freshmen were not made available to the media following Monday’s practice. … Former Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan standout running back Jamin Arend is out indefinitely with a foot injury he suffered during the Tigers’ fall scrimmage. DWU is leaning toward having surgery. … Jaden Bloemendaal has switched positions from running back to slot receiver