Dream becomes reality

Rylee Beardsworth

According to nj.com, only 0.08% of high school football players will reach the NFL, making their dream a reality.

Matt Nelson had dreamed of becoming a professional athlete ever since he was little. He had a passion for football and this passion grew during his time in the Xavier football program. He graduated from Xavier High School in 2014, played football at the University of Iowa, graduating in 2019, and is now playing in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. 

“Matt loved sports, all of them, but even clear back in his kindergarten class at St. Matthew’s with Mrs. Peck, he was drawing himself as a famous football player,” Julie Palmer, Nelson’s mom, said.

The journey of making this childhood dream a reality began with the help of the lessons Nelson learned at Xavier.

“The Xavier football program taught me the basics of football and taught me about toughness, discipline and work ethic,” Nelson said. 

Even though  Nelson learned many life lessons at  Xavier,  he  already had characteristics that would   help  him  succeed   in  the  future.

“Matt was intelligent, tough, a competitor and always put the team first,” Xavier Head Football Coach Duane Schulte said. 

Matt’s wife, Hayley Nelson, also a Xavier alum of 2014, acknowledges their lives would not be the same if they had not gone to Xavier.

“Xavier laid the framework for the success Matt has had. Xavier always pushed us to be the best version of ourselves, whether it was in the classroom or on the field/court. He has always been taught that hard work will give you the rewards you want to see,” Hayley said. “For example, when he changed positions at Iowa [from defensive end to defensive tackle], he knew it was not going to just be handed to him. He worked tirelessly at practice and when he got home, he was constantly watching film to see what he could do to get better.”

These behind the scenes tasks Matt worked on to improve are the reason he is where he is now, with the Detroit Lions. 

“I was able to make this dream a reality with lots of hard work and support from friends and family,” Matt said.

Palmer has loved being there to watch and support her son as he has grown into the person he is today.

“I have the best seat in the house, being able to see Matt and his brothers grow into compassionate, funny and hard working men. There has been nothing better than to watch them all chase after their dreams,” Palmer said.

As the first Xavier alum to hold an active roster spot in the NFL, Matt has brought joy to the Xavier community and especially to his coaches.

“I feel proud. We tell our guys ‘you get what you earn’ and Matt has earned all he has achieved,” Schulte said. 

While Matt has been very successful in his career, he has also been a Christian role model through his humility.

“Matt really does not want the fame. He loves the game of football. He feels tremendously blessed that he can still play a sport that he has loved since he was a child,” Palmer said.

Matt’s intention is to continue playing the sport that he loves for as long as he can and he is looking forward to the future.

“Football has given us a lot of memories and will continue giving us more in the years to come. We are both very excited to go on this football journey,” Hayley said.

Watch this former Xavier Saint live out his dream when the Detroit Lions play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois Sunday, December 6 at 12:00 p.m.