Making up for lost time

Charles Nelson has proven he can be a returner at the professional level, but he’s eager to prove he can contribute so much more.

In 2019, his first full season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the wide receiver out of the University of Oregon was named the team’s kick returner.

Nelson impressed, too, as he had an 81-yard punt return and 55-yard kickoff return in Week 5 at home against the Toronto Argonauts, but he ended up paying for it as he suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in the same game.

The Daytona Beach, Fla., native’s season was over.

Nelson would have to wait two years, three days shy of the anniversary of his fracture, before he could step on the field with the Bombers again. But the 25-year-old is making up for lost time as Nelson has been a standout in the first eight days of training camp.

“I think Charles is having an excellent camp,” head coach Mike O’Shea told reporters Saturday.

“He’s on point, he’s catching footballs, he’s, obviously, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands so I’m sure Buck (Pierce) and the offensive staff will do a great job of trying to find him more footballs.”

Nelson is no stranger to being around the ball. In addition to catching passes and returning kicks at Oregon, he also played safety and defensive back.

“I like to be very versatile. Whatever it is, whether it be blocking, whether it be snapping the ball, holding the ball, whatever it is, I want to be on the field to help,” Nelson said.

“I’m a team player. Whatever it is that the team needs done, I want to get out there and show them that I don’t just run routes. I can play in the backfield, I can catch punts, I can cover, I can tackle, so whatever it is, I just want to be out there and help this team so we can go and win another Grey Cup.”

Nelson re-signed with the Blue and Gold in January 2020 on a two-year deal which was a bit of a surprise considering how he watched the team beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the Grey Cup two months earlier from the couch of his Winnipeg apartment. After getting injured, Nelson went to treatment but would often skip out on practice because he couldn’t stand being a spectator. The staff weren’t overly pleased with how he handled the setback and decided to not fly him to Calgary for the championship game.

“Everybody handles injuries differently, right? But we think he’s an unbelievable football player who’s got great talent and can offer the team that dynamic playmaker in two phases on offence and on special teams.” ‐ Bomber coach Mike O’Shea

Despite that, Nelson and O’Shea had a good chat in the offseason and the two sides were able to put it behind them.

“Everybody handles injuries differently, right? But we think he’s an unbelievable football player who’s got great talent and can offer the team that dynamic playmaker in two phases on offence and on special teams,” O’Shea said.

“Obviously he’s come back and he’s ready to go. He’s exciting to watch in practice. I’m very happy for Charles. It’s just good to be around him.”

With the 2020 season cancelled, Nelson returned to Eugene, Ore., to train at his old campus. He also got a warehouse job working for Coca-Cola. Nelson, who caught 124 passes for 1,555 yards and 14 touchdowns in four seasons at Oregon, never considered throwing in the towel on his football career despite the long, long layoff. “Just to know we weren’t having a season, that changed a lot of guys’ (mentalities) and what they needed to do to provide for themselves and their families,” he said.

“I was one of those guys so I had to find a job, make some money, pay some bills, so you know, that’s life. Things happen, it’s just how we basically move forward with it. I feel like the guys here, everybody was still committed to this team. You don’t see a lot of guys gone, a lot of guys are coming back and it means something. Just to know we’re actually having a season this year is what excites everybody.”

And does the excitement rise to another level knowing that IG Field has been given the green light to have 33,000-plus fans on Aug. 5 for the season opener against Hamilton?

“It’s going to be exciting to be back on that field and just seeing the crowd,” he said. “It’ll probably hit me right in the beginning, but once that football gets kicked, once the whistle blows, it’s football. So that’s all I think about. I don’t even hear the crowd at that point.”

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

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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