Hilltop Heroes: TJ Nelson
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 22:02
Pressure is a factor that everyone deals with from time to time, but it’s something athletes are judged upon. With that in mind, it’s also something that cannot be counted, measured or tallied. Pressure is simply something people are able to overcome or suffer beneath. It is simply something good players can or cannot play amongst.
T.J. Nelson, former SMU midfielder, proved his ability to play with pressure almost immediately after being drafted in the supplemental draft by FC Dallas, but also showed why his growth as a man has been more than anything on a stat sheet.
With only seconds remaining in Nelson’s first game with FC Dallas during a scrimmage versus the University of Memphis, the young man received a pass from a teammate and promptly kicked in the game winning goal.
“In your first game, you don’t expect to score a goal, especially the game-winner,” Nelson said.
“It was definitely a heart-warming experience.”
Although the strike was obviously a highlight of the former Mustang defender, when asked if it was tops in his memories, he was quick to point out another event just months earlier.
After several years of hard work at SMU, Nelson was able to walk across the stage and earn his degree in just three and a half years, even with the heavy demands of an athlete’s schedule.
“Definitely his biggest accomplishment was graduating and doing it early,” said Tim McClements, Nelson’s former coach at SMU. “He had aspirations of playing at the next level, but was also dedicated to his studies.”
Nelson’s dedication to his future wasn’t just during his school time. In fact on the day of his graduation ceremony he quickly found himself on a plane to Seattle for the MLS’s player combine to be looked at and evaluated.
Scouts from all across the world were looking at what coach McClements and the rest of the staff at SMU had seen for four seasons in Dallas.
“What we saw early on was a very talented player that was local,” said Schellas Hyndman, FC Dallas head coach. “He can play both sides of the ball. He’s technically gifted.”
Even with the high aspirations of both his former and current coaches, questions arose from people who had only seen Nelson’s statistics, in which he had only two goals and five assists in 71 games as a Mustang, but also helped anchor SMU’s defense to one of the best in the nation.
The men’s team allowed a league-low six scores his final year with the team.
“Look at him closer and you can see how many games he played,” Hyndman said of the defensive stalwart. “Just look at all the defensive positions he played. He’s not always playing goal-scoring positions.”
The young star knew his role at SMU was not to simply score goals, but to play within a system that allowed Nelson to create plays for others.
“He was a captain and a winning team player,” McClements said. “He tied the defense into the attack. He’s a player that made others look better.”
“TJ didn’t necessarily get the stats that most guys would have going into the MLS, but he was very valuable to our team.”
Nelson has a natural leadership ability that was easy to see to those around him. Starting at his time with the US’s under-17 national team, Nelson showcased a quiet confidence in his ability that never wavered.
“It was very obvious when he would step in and correct things,” McClements said. “He was like another coach on the field. That’s why he’s a captain.”
His leadership will need to be on full display for the foreseeable future of Nelson’s career as he is still in the midst of a battle for a final place on FC Dallas’ final roster.
Even with that immense pressure hanging over him, Nelson has not forgotten how glorious it felt to have his name called on January 22.
“When I heard my name called, it was like a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “To hear it was Dallas was even better.”