By Sam Finley

He’s a long way from home. Charles Nelson grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he started playing football as a fourth grader. 

“It was awesome,” says the UO wide receiver about his hometown. “You had sunshine every day. It was a great experience for me. I love it there. It’s a little different from Eugene. But I do like it in Oregon as well.” 

So how does a young kid from sunny Florida decide to play college football in the Pacific Northwest? 

“I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to come out here and play this game,” he says. “There were plenty of spots open for me to play. I just felt like it was the best place for me to be. Whether it’s in academics or football, there’s just a lot of things that you can do to be successful at this school.” 

Speaking of spots, since coming here in 2014, he’s been one of the Ducks’ most valuable receivers and is considered one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players. He’s recognized as a “special teams player,” known to score a touchdown on any given kick return. Currently, he’s leading the nation in kickoff return yards this year with an average of 27.3 yards per return and 88.8 overall return yards per game. He even played a little defensive back last season and intercepted a couple passes.  

“I had a great time,” Nelson says about playing on defense. “The coaches just give you the best opportunity to be successful, including playing new positions. They put you in the best place possible for that to happen. It was just great for me to be able to see the other side and maximize every opportunity I have here. I’m done with that right now, but we’ll see what happens.”  

Whatever position he plays, he’s considered valuable. This includes his speed on the field.

“He’s got the ability to make people miss,” says UO special teams coordinator Tom Osborne. “That’s a huge part of things when our other guys on special teams may not be able to make a block by using his speed to elude tacklers. He’s right up there as a returner with (other UO special teams greats) Pat Johnson and De’Anthony Thomas.” 

Or could it be the 5’8, 170-pound junior’s leadership towards his younger teammates? 

“He’s an explosive player,” says sophomore wide receiver Jalen Brown. “Charles goes out and does things that make big plays for us, pushes the momentum, and keeps us going tempo-wise. He just goes out there, works hard, and takes a lot of reps and making plays on special teams. He just shows that you don’t always have to talk to be a leader.” 

Nelson definitely agrees he prefers to let his actions do the talking. 

“I’m not the type of person that yells and talks,” he says about his leadership. “It’s not my thing. I just try to go out there and do what’s best. Hopefully, guys see me do what I do 100 percent of the time and then try to follow in the same way.”

But his quiet nature should never be confused with a lack of competitiveness. Consider how he feels when he has a good return yet doesn’t get a touchdown. 

“It’s hurtful,” Nelson says with a grin. “But when you see the offense is about to come onto the field at the 25-yard line, then obviously we’ll get a score out of that. So it’s a lose-win situation. You didn’t get the touchdown, but your team is going to get one. Still, the first reaction definitely is like, ‘Dang it. It was there, could’ve done it, just one guy to beat.’ Have to learn from that and not let it happen again.” 

Yet that hurt is minor compared to the season his Ducks are currently having. Nelson played on a Rose Bowl-winning team his freshman year, but Oregon now finds itself on track for its first losing campaign since 2004.  

“It’s frustrating because a lot of us aren’t used to losing like this,” he says about their current season. “But it’s just something that you have to learn and live by. You have to learn from the mistakes. Coming off successful seasons and then not having such a successful year as we hoped, is just something we have to take in and better ourselves from.”  

Still, he believes the potential for a return to greatness is possible. 

“The potential is there,” Nelson stays. “We just have to perfect our talent so we can take advantage of every opportunity. We could be better off for it next year.”  

Regardless of what happens in 2017, it will be his final season as a Duck. He says he’s already got some ideas about what his future beyond Oregon might hold. 

“My plans are to hopefully make it to the next level (NFL),” Nelson says. “If that’s not possible, then all the more reason for me to maximize my opportunities with school and try to do something in the business realm. I’d like to own a business. I’m not really sure what kind yet, but I think about it every day.”