Hotshots’ Nelson ‘Serious’ about next step in The Alliance
By Jose Romero
PHOENIX — Robert Nelson’s professional football career looked promising at the end of the 2016 season. Previously not kept on two NFL rosters, he earned a role with the Houston Texans, made 17 solo tackles and intercepted a pass over 11 games.
But by early September of this year, he was a “street” free agent once again, at age 28.
Nelson was not about to give up. Now, with an opportunity to revive his football life through the Alliance of American Football, the former first-team Pac-12 cornerback aims to be an integral part of the Arizona Hotshots in their inaugural season.
“I’m grateful for this league,” Nelson said. “We need film. You get to build relationships. It gives you hope.”
After being released by the New Orleans Saints before the regular season, he soon found himself longing to feel the contact from football again.
“I started putting on my helmet and my whole gear and going out on the field and running plays,” Nelson said. “I’m like ‘What am I doing?’ So that’s how serious football is to me.
“It’s hard to just, ‘Oh, OK, I’m done. No,’ ” Nelson added, his voice tinged with emotion. “This league provided life for us, if I should say.”
Nelson is excited to meet new teammates and return to Arizona — he played in college at Arizona State, where the Hotshots will play home games.
Sun Devils fans will remember Nelson for a key interception against Arizona in the annual Territorial Cup rivalry game. It happened with 3:17 to play, and his 66-yard return set up what would be a touchdown for a two-score lead and eventual win.
“I will (have worn) three different jerseys on that field,” Nelson said of returning to Sun Devil Stadium. “In 2009 I played at Louisiana-Monroe and I played against Arizona State, and I said I wanted to go to Arizona State. The next year, I’m at Arizona State in the Sun Devils colors.
“Now I’m with the Hotshots. So every opportunity, it’s like a dream come true,” Nelson added. “You can’t get that feeling anywhere else. I get to be home. I live here. I’m not going nowhere.”
While he hopes The Alliance is a springboard back to the NFL, Nelson sees his role with the Hotshots as one of helping younger players be professionals.
Nelson draws off his experience from just a few months ago when he signed with the Saints during training camp. He had two days to learn what he could about the Saints’ defensive scheme.
“It’s our job to teach the younger guys how to study and how to learn and how to group everything and put it together,” Nelson said. “The NFL, if you want to make it to that level, you have to do it here.”
Nelson said it will be important for young players to do such things as showing up to work early and not on time, staying late, studying, sacrificing and keeping their bodies in shape.
He also offered to help teammates with such things as getting massages, utilizing the cold tub, stretching and watching film.
“It’s my job to take these guys under my wing,” he said. “You’ve got to lock down for the next three months. There’s no partying, no playing. It’s serious. This league is designed for us to get back into (the NFL). So if you don’t know how to be a pro now, you’re not getting back into the league, period.”