Nelson family battles beyond the football field

BY TOMI THOMPSON — thompsonto@mnstate.edu

When junior Brandon Nelson was getting ready for another year of Dragon football, he knew a season full of battles lied ahead. The Dragons finished the 2013 season strong, and were looking for continued growth and success in the program.

A couple days before fall training camp began, however, he received a phone call from his father, Randy, letting him know he needed to come home that night.

Randy had the difficult task of telling his son he had a battle of his own to fight — he had been diagnosed with cancer.

“It came out of nowhere. We were all just like, this isn’t real,” Brandon said.

After the diagnosis, the Nelson family turned to each other for support.

“We’re fighting all together, one day at a time,” he added.

Besides his family, Brandon is able to find support in his team.

“Having football has definitely helped me, because I can just come and take my mind off things,” Brandon said. “The team is pretty much my second family.”

Randy Nelson has coached much of his life, and now serves as athletic director at Shanley.

Randy said his relationship with his son revolves around athletics, and Brandon attributes much of his love and knowledge for football to his dad.

“He’s taught me everything I know,” Brandon said. “I thank him for where I am today. He’s the reason why I’m here.”

Some of the biggest lessons Brandon has learned from his dad are simple ones.

“Never give up, always push, give 110 percent,” Brandon said. “It’ll pay off at the end.”

Assistant football coach Matt Baasch has known Randy and Brandon since he was a coach at Shanley. 

Baasch said Randy has been a coach, friend, and mentor.

“He’s coaching all of us now on how to make an impact and live your life day-by-day and making the most of of the days we’ve got,” Baasch said.

Baasch said Randy not only serves as a mentor and supporter to his son, but to himself and the coaching staff as well.

“It’s always meant a lot for us to see him at practice and games, but it means even more now,” he said.

For Brandon, Randy isn’t just  his dad — he’s his number one fan.

“He was mad he couldn’t come to our first game at Upper Iowa because of chemo,” Brandon said. “He wants to come support me all the time. He’s the biggest fan probably for me.”

Having the opportunity to watch his son play football is something Randy values as well.

“It’s hard not to be a proud father,” Randy said. “Any chance I get to watch him play is a special day.”

Even when Randy isn’t in the stands, Brandon has a very special way of keeping him extra close. He wears a ‘Team Nelson’ wristband, and Brandon’s handwriting shares the message “#BeastModeAD, 4 You Dad” on his game towel.

“Writing that down on a towel, having him right there, means he’ll be closer to me on the field,” Brandon said. “I can just look down and be like hey, this is for my dad.”

This Saturday, all of the Dragons will be wearing something special as they host their cancer awareness game against the Northern State Wolves at 2 p.m. They will be raising money for the MSUM Go Pink scholarship, and the Tackle Cancer fund.

All fans are invited to wear pink to help support cancer awareness.

Through his diagnosis, Randy has been able to teach a valuable lesson.

“They always say, ‘you’re not promised tomorrow, you should take one day at a time,’ I was just as guilty as everyone else not doing that, and this just kind of really put that in perspective,” Randy said. “For me, we fight every day. I feel that the way I approach life now is better than the way I did before. You have to enjoy every moment that you have.”

Brandon and Randy Nelson both know the battles that lie ahead aren’t easy, but with each other’s strength and support, ‘Team Nelson’ can fight on.

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