Charles Nelson is a Grey Cup champion and he has the ring to prove it, but he doesn’t consider himself one.
When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers snapped their 28-year Grey Cup drought and the confetti began to fall at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Nov. 24, 2019, Nelson was nowhere to be found. That’s because the wide receiver/kick returner wasn’t at the game. Nelson, who broke a foot in Week 5 and missed the rest of the season, was watching the game by himself in his Winnipeg apartment.
What the heck did he do to deserve that?
“I kind of just went to treatment, did what I had to do there, then I’d go home and sit there… I kind of went into hiding, ” said Nelson of his reaction to his season-ending injury. In the team’s 48-21 victory at home over the Toronto Argonauts on July 12, Nelson felt something snap in the foot. It ended up being a fifth metatarsal fracture.
“I didn’t go to practice. I didn’t like going to practice when I knew I couldn’t do it, cause to me, that just sucks, sitting out there watching all these guys run around when I can’t even run, so I never went out to practice.”
The fact he didn’t show his face often after the injury wasn’t well received by Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea or general manager Kyle Walters.
“(They) kind of felt that because I was that way that I didn’t deserve to go to the Grey Cup game, so they didn’t take me. I didn’t travel with the team. I had to watch it from home,” said Nelson from his off-season home in Eugene, Ore.
“You know, that kind of sucked, which is why I often say I don’t feel like I deserve to be called a champion. I don’t feel like I deserve this ring that I got.”
He doesn’t blame O’Shea and Walters for making that decision. He admits he’s the one who put himself in that spot. Luckily for the former Oregon Duck, it didn’t burn a bridge with the Bombers and he signed a two-year contract extension in January.
“Coach O’Shea and I talked after the season about what happened and we resolved the issue. I wouldn’t say it was an issue, but we resolved both of our thinking on it,” said the 25-year-old.
“We both kind of thought a different way. He thought one way, I thought another and we resolved that. We talked it out and came to a conclusion. So, I feel like that part after the season was a great thing for me, for him and going forward with the team.”
In college Nelson showed his versatility, playing receiver, defensive back and safety in addition to returning kicks. He finished his four-year career at Oregon with 124 receptions for 1,555 yards and 14 touchdowns, rushed for another three touchdowns and scored four on returns. On defence, he hauled in two interceptions and made 67 tackles. He was also a placeholder and even threw a touchdown pass in his senior season, although he’d be the first to say his arm is nowhere near as impressive as that of his old college teammate, Justin Herbert, who’s having a record-breaking rookie season in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Nelson didn’t hear his name called in the 2018 NFL draft, but his resumé earned him a tryout with the Indianapolis Colts. When the Colts released him, his agent convinced him to head up to Winnipeg to give the Canadian game a shot. He arrived over a week into training camp, but after his first impression, he wasn’t so sure the CFL was for him.
“It was kind of rough not being there when everybody got there a week ahead of time. They were able to learn the playbook, learn the rules, you know, everything that comes with the CFL that I didn’t take into account when I was going up there,” he said.
“It was really tough and I wasn’t really put into a position to go out there and show my talent and what I can bring to the team. It was kind of like, I’d get a play here and there in practice.”
Nelson opted to return home and got a job in construction, but quickly realized that wasn’t the life for him. The Bombers ended up bringing him back in September and signed him to the practice squad. He made his CFL debut in the final game of the regular season, where he impressed on special teams. His performance led to him being called up for the West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders.
In 2019, Nelson wasn’t able to land a starting gig as a receiver, but he won the return job. Before the injury, he showcased his explosiveness with an 81-yard punt return and 55-yard kickoff return.
With his practice squad stint as a rookie, the foot injury last year and the 2020 season cancelled owing to COVID-19, Nelson has played just six games in three years. For now, he’s working a warehouse job for Coca-Cola, but he’s eager to show everyone in Bomberland what he can do over a full season in 2021, assuming there is one.
“Expect great things. That’s all I can say,” he said. “I haven’t really had the opportunity to get out there and show Bomber fans what I can bring to the table. I feel like with the upcoming season and my mentality, it’s going to be an exciting season.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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