Matt Tjapkes 2017-08-23 01:14:56
There are times when Joe Nelson has to stop and take it all in. Nelson, the new head coach of the Grand Haven Buccaneer football team, was once a player for the Bucs, graduating in 1989. But even back then, the thought of being the head coach of the Buccaneers was on his mind. “Probably in that ‘everybody’s a dreamer’ phase,” Nelson said. “You never know where you’re going to end up. I thought I wanted to get into education when I was in school. I loved working with young kids. “It’s kind of a cliché dream to coach where you played, so it’s been pretty surreal right now. The world’s been so fast this summer I didn’t really sit and digest it. It took me a little while to realize that this is like a dream right now, having my boys on the team, coaching where I grew up and where I invested my whole life in. It’s been pretty awesome. Nelson has been in training for this job almost since the day he graduated high school. After playing one season at Grand Valley State University, he returned to the sidelines of Buccaneer Stadium as a volunteer assistant for then-head coach Steve Horodyski in 1990. Nelson has held a variety of positions over the years, working on the Freshman, Junior Varsity and Varsity levels, including a couple stints as head coach of the JV team. While being a head coach on lower level gave him some ideas of what was to come, there’s nothing like the real thing. “In my mind, I was training for this job. There were a lot of responsibilities I wanted to learn,” he said. “Not a whole lot will prepare you for some of the stuff you have to do until you have to do it.” After 17 years with the Bucs, Nelson stepped up a level for seven years, serving as an assistant at Hope College under head coach Dean Kreps and defensive coordinator Michael Ricketts. “I learned a lot of things when I was at Hope,” Nelson said. “How to have a high expectation and still be good to people. To be demanding without being a jerk.” Nelson returned to the Bucs three years ago to be closer to his wife Kristin and his four kids, two of which were going to be in high school. “My son Adam was a freshman and was going to be competing in football, and my daughter McKenzie was a senior. My other son Elijah was playing football in the Young Bucs program and my other son Camden was playing soccer. It came to a point where I was going to miss everything everybody did. I was an easy decision but it was hard to leave Hope because it was a great experience. I didn’t regret it for a minute.” And now that’s he’s at the helm of the Buccaneers, Nelson said he’s going to blend everything he’s learned from so many he’s crossed paths with over the years. “You just keep filling your bag with knowledge,” he said. “I think I studied coaches as much as I studied anything else. In fact, I take stuff I learn from coaches and do it in my classroom. Some things are very very positive and some things are negative like ‘Boy I never want to do that.’ The biggest thing I learned is I have to be myself. I’m going to take things I like and see if it fits who I have (on the team). If you’re trying to be or do something that somebody else is or does, kids see right through that and you’re not genuine.”
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