Picture a typical summer afternoon in Florida, sun blazing on a shadeless field. Then picture Jesuit junior defensive lineman Anthony Nelson working out on a side field at the school while most of his teammates have long ago escaped the heat.
Nelson practices his moves against offensive linemen Jake Moore and Bradley Haines. No football. No quarterback to tackle. No fans. No coaches. Just Nelson practicing his takeoff from a three-point stance. One after the other after the other.
"It was on the grass field next to the stadium," Nelson said. "I would work on getting off the ball. If I can get past the lineman when the ball is snapped then there is nothing they can do."
Nelson, who is 6 feet 1, 215 pounds, is slightly undersized for a typical defensive lineman. But that hasn't been much of a detriment. He leads the team with 13 sacks and also has 21 quarterback hurries, both team highs.
As a sophomore he showed signs of what was to come this season. Despite being a reserve, he still had eight sacks.
"His speed is his biggest attribute," coach Matt Thompson said. "And he just refuses to get beat. He'll do anything he can to get to the quarterback, and he's not going to quit. His nickname is 'Hound Dog,' because he's just a dog. If a coach could harness what he has and teach it to the other players, that would be something."
Nelson played junior varsity as a freshman and could only watch as the varsity played on Friday nights. When he finally made the varsity as a sophomore, he decided that he wanted to play a different position. He was an interior lineman for much of his youth, but he wanted to play on the end so he could sack quarterbacks. So when coaches asked him what position he played, he told them defensive end.
"When I played in Little League I was kind of a chubby kid and I played on the offensive and defensive lines," Nelson said. "I always wanted to play out on the defensive end, so I told the coaches I was a defensive end. I just figured I could play there."
He has certainly proven he can.
Nelson is one of the top tacklers on a team that allows fewer than nine points per game. And while he leads the Tigers in sacks, he is far from the only one getting to the quarterback. Jesuit (11-0) has 40 sacks this season. If teams focus on Nelson, then players like Dalton Garrett and A.J. Pinion can harass the quarterback. Each has five sacks.
But it is Nelson who tends to find himself in an opponent's backfield first. It's partly because of all the work he puts in during the offseason. And it's partly because he spends the entire game trying to figure out his opponent.
"There's a lot that goes on in the trenches," Nelson said. "I'm always trying to outthink the offensive lineman. I might shift into a different gap or come at him at a different angle. But the biggest thing I'm trying to do is get off the ball as quickly as I can."