John’s Journal: From Three Sports In High School To Gophers Football
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s Tony Nelson Aims For State Track Record
Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 12:22 PM
--This is the first of two stories about small-town, multi-sport athletes who will play football at the University of Minnesota.
Tony Nelson thought about graduating from high school early and moving to the University of Minnesota for the 2022 spring semester, getting a head start on his college education and Gophers football career. But home is important and Nelson had more to accomplish as a three-sport, small-town high school athlete in southwest Minnesota.
Specifically, he wanted to remain with his teammates on the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton basketball and track and field teams.
“I know that all the sports help me with football,” he said after competing at the Trojan Relays in Worthington on Wednesday. “I can still be practicing footwork for football and everything in the offseason and during basketball or track. And it’s going to keep me in shape and those sports keep me in the weight room.”
Nelson, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 300 pounds, will be an offensive lineman at the University of Minnesota. The decision to accept a scholarship offer from the Gophers was easy, he said, calling it “a great honor.”
On the basketball court, Nelson averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds per game for the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers and was named the 2021-22 player of the year in southwest Minnesota by the Marshall Independent. TMB finished 20-9, doubling their victory total from the previous season and recording their best season in six years.
In the Marshall newspaper’s story about Nelson’s Player of the Year award, Panthers basketball coach Rick Haberman told reporter Sam Thiel, “Off the court, he’s really level-headed and has matured the last couple of seasons. He’s well-respected in the school; a kid that big could be intimidating to seventh- and eighth-graders but he’s really a gentle giant. We’re going to miss him on the court and in the school.”
Nelson will move to campus in Minneapolis in June after he graduates from high school and competes in the state track meet, where he is the defending Class A champion in the shot put. His major remaining high school goal is to break the state record in that event.
Nelson’s personal best came at the April 29 Hamline Elite Meet, where he threw 64 feet, 5½ inches. That mark stands fifth on the Minnesota all-time list, topped by the state record of 65-8 set by Andover’s Thomas Anderson in 2012.
He said he thinks about the state record “All the time. Any time I'm throwing, any time I'm not throwing, for sure.”
At track meets, Nelson is known for sticking around after the throwing events are finished to help kids from other schools work on their technique.
“He is incredible as a teammate, too, he's always helping,” said Tracy-Milroy-Balaton head track and field coach Marie Hanson. “He's teaching our younger kids all the time. In fact, today we had to tell some of the other throwers that they need to start making sure they have everything they need because Tony is going to be gone next year. Because they'll just say, ‘Tony will get it.’
“He's just very reliable. And he works hard. When basketball ended I said they could take a few days off (from track practice), but there were a couple of kids that were there right away. He was one of them. He's just always wanting to go the extra mile.”
Nelson has grown up on a farm, the youngest of four kids in an athletic family. His dad, Terry, a 1980 Tracy graduate, still holds the school record in the 300 hurdles.
Farm life has instilled a strong work ethic, Tony said with a smile; “You know, picking up heavy rocks in the spring.” And throwing a few of them. The same week he threw 64-5½ at the Hamline Elite Meet, he finished second in the soils judging contest at the Minnesota FFA convention. He plans to major in agriculture business in college.
Tony, who won the Trojan Relays Class A shot put with a distance of 61-4, wants the state record for reasons that extend beyond the personal. His father recalled a conversation on that topic in which Tony said, “Dad, I want to do it for the community.”
If he sets a new state record, he would be the only small-town track and field athlete, male or female, from rural Minnesota to hold that distinction.
Asked what he enjoys most about being a high school athlete, he said, “Just the community, I think, more than anything. Being out there with your buddies and having a good time. It's all fun.”
--Next on John’s Journal: another small-town athlete and future Gophers offensive lineman who participates in multiple sports.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org