by Anthony Schnabel
When senior Brandon Nelson took the field for his final year as a member of the Dragon football team, he knew he was going to be missing a key component of his success — his father.
Prior to fall training camp in Nelson’s junior season, he received devastating news that his father Randy was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma cancer.
With no timetable of Randy’s life expectancy, the Nelson family battled the cancer and eventually lost in early December of last year.
Fast forward to the first game of the 2015 season against Winona State.
“Running out with the team was extremely hard, then the national anthem was probably the hardest, that’s when I really started crying,” Brandon said. “It was like he was there and not there, he is more so on the field now.”
While Randy isn’t physically in the stands this year, Brandon carries him on the field with a custom-made “#CodeRandy” towel. Brandon and his sisters created the towel this summer replacing last year’s “#BeastModeAD, 4 You Dad” towel.
“We buried last year’s towel with him because of what it meant to him,” Brandon said.
He also added a tattoo of Randy’s day-to-day quote once he was diagnosed, “Tomorrow isn’t promised.” Brandon said he lives by this now, and the tattoo is his daily reminder.
Finding support through friends and family has been easy for Brandon, especially in his roommate Braden Lysne.
“Braden’s been around since sixth grade,” Brandon said. “He’s been through it all with me.”
Having established a relationship with the Nelsons, Lysne recalls many shared qualities between the father and son.
“I have always noticed the trait of having a big heart, always being the first to say hello,” Lysne said. “Living one day at a time, Brandon really took that to heart. Now he is just more grateful, not for being alive, but for every day.”
Nelson said his support stretches far beyond family and friends. After being diagnosed, Brandon’s mother Dorian was given VIP tickets to a San Francisco 49ers home game from her boss for Randy and Brandon last winter. After Randy’s death, the employer bought tickets for Dorian and Brandon’s two sisters Nicole and Gabby to go with Brandon instead.
“Being on the sidelines pregame was an amazing experience, definitely one for the books,” Brandon said. “It was awesome all four of us being together for that experience.”
Although Randy spent his final years as an athletic director for Shanley, he spent many of his professional years in Minot coaching football for Bishop Ryan High School and Minot State University.
“He always loved coaching,” Brandon said. “Deep down he always wanted to be coaching.”
Helping others with skills that his father taught him about the game of football is something Brandon hopes to do following his college career.
“My dad taught me everything I know about football, small things like always moving on to the next play,” he said. “Definitely something I hope to do after college.”
Nelson is an exercise science major aspiring to be a personal trainer or strength coach, with football being a continued part of his life.