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Milestone win stirs memories

Darlee Nelson's 100th victory brings back thoughts of his players and coaches.

Plant opened the season with Leto Friday night, and coach Darlee Nelson said he was focused on getting a victory, "so we could get these kids and this year off to a positive start."

When the Panthers won 35-15, however, Nelson said, "then it all hit me real hard."

Nelson had just won his 100th game.

He said he suddenly thought back to all of the players and coaches he has worked with in the past 17 years, the first 14 at Jefferson, the last three at Plant.

"Many great players: Keith Newman, Kirby Dar Dar, Coleman Bell, Donald Caldwell, Torrance Small, my sons and hundreds and hundreds of other great people," Nelson said. "It was really overwhelming to think about after the game.

"I wanted to say something to the kids right after, but I got emotional and I could barely get anything out."

He said it was extra special because he was presented at midfield with a ball signed in advance by his entire team and staff.

"When I saw that it already had been signed, I knew that this team had confidence that they could get the job done and get the victory," Nelson said.

"It told me that they had prepared themselves to play their hearts out, and that meant a lot."

The ball now is sitting on his mantle, next to the ball commemorating his first victory, 28-6 over Tampa Bay Tech in 1983.

As for a career highlight, he said there really isn't one game that stands out, but the 1996 season was extra special.

That was when quarterback Donald Caldwell (now known as Reche as a receiver at the University of Florida) led Jefferson to a 12-2 record and a state semifinal berth.

"I never thought about numbers of victories, but I have always thought about winning championships," he said. "In 1996, when we went so far, well, that was special. And that kind of expectation and attitude is what we're building toward here at Plant. We feel we're making strides in that direction."

Nelson's assistant coaches must believe in his eternal optimism because when he left Jefferson in 1997, his entire staff came with him. And they are still with him.

In some cases, it seems it always has been that way. Charles McDonald has known Nelson since their days at Hillsborough High. Albert Smith played for Nelson in that first victory at Tampa Bay Tech. Harry Hubbard has been with Nelson since 1985.

"Why do they stay around?" Nelson asked. "Well, I think they stay around for the same reason that I do. We all feel like we can help kids develop as young men through playing football. And that's the truth.

"High school football is just so great in so many ways. Right now, I'm charged and my whole staff is charged. Hey, it's football season, and we love it."