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Hall of Fame Spotlight: Dave Nelson

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2024 - 12:00 PM

HOF Class of 2024
Dave Nelson Hall of Fame

Dave Nelson

It was one day during his eighth-grade year that Dave Nelson found himself in a customary place. He was in Anoka High School’s gymnasium playing basketball with his father, Stan, a legendary teacher and football coach at the school. The positive connection they had was undeniable and it radiated mutual love and respect. Stan was a highly successful high school coach, and Dave knew he wanted to be just like him.

His idol.

During the sacred father-son time, Dad asked son what he wanted to do with his life. Nelson didn’t skip a beat or pause while taking shots. He answered that he wanted to be a coach. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt like destiny, his calling. He knew as much as an eighth-grader. But Dad wasn’t convinced. He tried to persuade Dave to look in another direction.

He wanted him to be a dentist.

“Now nothing against being a dentist, but I said I just want to be a coach,” Nelson recalled with a smile. “I’ve seen the impact you’ve had on others in the Anoka community, and I’d like to do that, too. He said that was a pretty good reason and gave it his blessing. Really, being around him and playing sports, I felt like I was the luckiest kid in town.”

Nelson has not disappointed his father, a 103-year-old World War II veteran who was part of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Nor has he wavered from his nearly lifelong commitment to lead and guide young men through athletics and to instill leadership, morals and values for the betterment of society.

Nelson will be recognized for the lasting impacts he’s made, as well as on-field success, as a member of the Minnesota State High School League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2024. He is one of two inductees in the Coaches Category. The League’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony is set for Sunday, April 14 at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront Hotel.

The Anoka native taught physical education and coached football at Blaine High School from 1978-2001. He then moved to Minnetonka where he coached and taught from 2002 until his retirement in 2013. He compiled a 152-50 record at Blaine and won 10 conference championships, eight section titles and made four Prep Bowl appearances. The Bengals were the big-school champions in 1988 after defeating Cretin-Derham Hall in dramatic fashion. Former Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback Chris Weinke, who played in that title game, is a fellow inductee in the Hall of Fame Class of 2024.

At Minnetonka, he led the Skippers to their first state championship in 2004 and a runner-up in 2017, and qualified in three other seasons. He finished with 267 combined victories.

In the fall of 2023, he came out of retirement to serve as an assistant coach at Holy Family Catholic.

“There’s just something really special about Friday Night Lights, and I was so drawn to it,” Nelson said. “I think the impact of playing for our dad had on me on that course. I just loved doing the things my dad had done.”

As a highly decorated coach and the recipient of a multitude of awards, Nelson has also given back to the game through leadership positions with the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and the Minnesota State High School League. He is especially respected as a coach who takes transformational leadership to the highest degree.

Family, again, was the source of inspiration for Nelson and his wife, Maureen, to give back through football. Maureen, by the way, did not miss a game in 42 years.

The couple has 11 grandchildren, including Riggins, who had a rare genetic disorder called CDG1A, Riggins used a wheelchair and was nonverbal, but was a tremendous positive force in the Nelson’s creating a camp called “We Are One” for children with disabilities in the Minnetonka School District.

The empowering event brings together current players and 50-60 students with special needs to enjoy football with the goal of forming friendships. Simply put, it is an event filled with smiles, kindness and learning more about one another.

“Riggins was such a blessing to our family,” Nelson said. “The joy that we would see from these kids was just so fulfilling. We lost Riggins to heaven on his eighth birthday in November of 2019, but the blessings that he have us all, you know, is just really evident in our family. He was the motivation behind the camp and it turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved in.”

The Nelsons are also activists in Randy Shaver’s “Tackle Cancer” campaign that raises thousands of dollars each football season to fund cancer research.  He had prostrate cancer in 2011. “It’s one of the highlights of my career to be involved with this,” Nelson says of the campaign.

“Dave is the kind of guy that always asks, “How can I help?’’ said Ray Kirch, a former longtime assistant coach with Nelson at Blaine. “How can I help with this kid in the offseason or help with this kid in terms of grades or behavior difficulties at home? I know he did that at Minnetonka, and I can tell you, firsthand at Blaine, he and Maureen were a combo platter when you take troubled youth into their homes and have them live alongside their own children. That, in a nutshell, describes Dave and his wife, Maureen, and how compassionate they are for young people. The impact he’s had on these young men has been infinitely more influential and impactful than anything he’s done with them or others between the sidelines.”

Dave Nelson Hall of Fame Action Shot

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