Oct. 6, 2006
By Ivan Santana, UCLA Sports Information Student Assistant
Danny Nelson has logged more miles than your typical student-athlete -- literally. Before reporting to football camp this summer, Nelson trained for and completed an ultra marathon, running roughly 32 miles. The ultra marathon was the latest in a myriad of marathons and triathlons the senior fullback and kick-return team specialist has completed.
Nelson took an interest in running as a way to rehabilitate from a shattered collarbone in the fall of 2004, but he began running marathons as a way to raise money to help families affected by war. A former U.S. Marine and a friend to many active servicemen, Nelson knew the struggles of a fallen soldier's family all too well. So he raised funds from family and friends based on his performances in marathons and triathlons.
Nelson attributes his avid involvement to the relationships he has built with soldiers, veterans and their families through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Pat Tillman Foundation.
"I hear all of the different stories from these people and their families that really make it personal; it becomes something I don't ever want to stop doing," he said.
Danny's exhilarating attitude extends to the football field. The three-year letterman, a transfer from Arizona Western College, not only plays as a back-up fullback, but also anchors a special teams unit, a responsibility that is not lost on him.
"I think kick-off duty is the most terrifying and most exhilarating thing you can do in football. Even as a kid, I've always watched guys like Pat Tillman, special teams madman, flying over the wedges," said Nelson. "To me, they just seemed like guys who played reckless, like nothing mattered to them. I just love the opportunity to play and do the little things that some guys may take for granted on other teams. Those plays mean everything to me."
Nelson hopes to provide enough energy for another successful season, where, coming off last year's 10-2 record, the Bruins' aim is clear.
"Our team goal has always been to win the Pac-10. If you win the Pac-10, you will be a national contender. That being said, there is one team I want to beat more than any other in the world and it's SC.We can only focus on one game at a time right now. But there's no secret amongst anyone around me or my family or anyone on the team that when the time comes, everyone will be more than focused on that game."
In what may be his last year of organized football, Nelson wants to be sure that, like in years past, his effort is accompanied by undeniable leadership.
"To all the people around me, I want them to get the feeling that I genuinely care about them as a teammate, I want to help them learn, and I'd do absolutely anything for them, on or off the field. I think that's what a real leader is," he said. "On the field, I try to prove to them every single play that I am not afraid to sell my body for them, for the cause, for the team. That to me is the type of leader I'd want to be."
While the coaching staff will be sad to lose his experience after this season, Nelson will go on to serve his country as a Second Lieutenant of the U.S. Army once he receives his commission in June 2007.
"I love football and I am savoring every moment of it here, but I feel that there is something else out there calling my name. That's why I chose to go back into the army," said Nelson.
Nelson added, "I'm still thankful for the UCLA football experience and everything that has come with it, but I think now I need to give something back. All this was given to me but it's now time to go do something that I need to do instead of something that's fun to do."