UNION GROVE — Just like last year, there will be a Nelson playing quarterback for the Union Grove High School football team.
Just like last year, he’ll be wearing No. 15.
Only this time, it won’t be Matt Nelson, who was last season’s All-Racine County Player of the Year. Instead, it will be his brother, Luke, who was a sophomore receiver for the Broncos last season.
“Luke is his own man,” said Union Grove coach Craig McClelland, who groomed Matt into a player who passed and rushed for a combined 2,358 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. “It’s not fair to compare him to Matt.”
McClelland has a point there. Matt was already seeing extensive playing time as a sophomore in 2014. Luke is being asked to make the conversion from a receiver as a junior.
Will there be growing pains? Certainly. But McClelland knows his new quarterback is up to the challenge.
“Luke right now is probably where Matt was at the beginning of his junior year,” McClelland said. “So he’s got a lot to learn.
“The thing I like about him the most is his ability to run inside the tackles. In my offense, we run the quarterback a lot. So it was very essential to pick a kid who was going to be tough inside running the ball.”
It will likely take awhile for Luke to approach the passing prowess of his brother, who threw for 1,796 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. But Luke sure will have the talent around him as he develops.
Leading the way is Jacob Ross, who missed three games with an injury as a junior, but still caught 21 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Other established returnees include receivers Carson LaPointe and Jack Pettit, right end Bubba Rewolinski and fullback Devin Shibilski.
“Luke has one job this year — it’s that simple,” Ross said. “It’s to get us the ball. I think we have the best receivers in southeastern Wisconsin this year. We’re so athletic and we’re faster than anyone on the field.”
Luke Nelson has a great situation as he develops. Not only is he learning from McClelland, a former record-setting quarterback for the Racine Raiders, he’s a phone call away from getting advice from his brother, who is a freshman at Mankato State in Minnesota.
“It’s usually every day,” Luke said when asked how often he talks with his brother. “We talk about football a lot, so it’s a good relationship. And he worked with me prior to the season to help me get my reads down.”
One other factor should help with Nelson’s development. While right tackle Andrew Thompkins is Union Grove’s only returning starter on the offensive line, McClelland feels there could be a strong improvement with that unit this season.
“We’re not passive,” McClelland said. “We’re not waiting. Last year, that was an issue. We’re going to give away size, but we’re not going to get bullied.”
The Broncos had some issues on defense last season, allowing an average of 334.7 yards per game and allowing 141 points in their final three games. But McClelland is encouraged on that side of the ball, as well.
Jakob Johnson and Thompkins return to the defensive line. Shibilski and Keith Storm-Voltz return at linebacker. And the entire secondary returns with Rewolinski and LaPointe at the safeties and Ross and Jack Clark at the cornerbacks.
“I think we can go to the playoffs this year if we stick with what our coaches are telling us and we grind every day,” Shibilski said. “We’re really starting to get mean and we’re really starting play our hearts out.”