Ponoka can now add a Canadian Football League (CFL) player to their claim to fame.
Ponoka resident Cole Nelson, 24, fourth year defensive lineman for the University of Alberta Golden Bears, was the Edmonton Football Team’s fifth pick in the first round of the the 2021 CFL draft on May 4.
Nelson moved back home this past year when classes went online due to COVID-19, and his immediate family along with his girlfriend gathered at the family farm east of Ponoka to watch the TSN draft broadcast.
— CFL (@CFL) May 4, 2021
Even though he had a heads-up that he’d been selected, he says the waiting was nerve-wracking as the picks started, so it was a good thing he was chosen so early on.
“Thank God because I probably would’ve blown up with anxiety waiting,” he said with a chuckle.
“There’s not many people on the planet with his size who move as well as he does,” said Edmonton Football Team general manager Brock Sunderland to the Edmonton Sun.
“Extremely athletic and versatile, he was used all over the place at Alberta. He would be defensive end, he would slide inside to the interior, he would line up at linebacker and come from depth,” said Sunderland.
Nelson says he’s starting to get used to all the attention and hearing people comment about him in the media.
“It was weird at the start, for sure,” he said.
With being selected to the Edmonton Foot Team (an interim name while they are re-branding), Nelson won’t even have to change his colours of green and gold.
Joining the U of A Golden Bears in 2016, Nelson racked up 21.0 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
“Cole has been a very resilient young man since his arrival,” said Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris in a story on the team’s website.
“He has consistently put the work in and, despite having to overcome some significant adversity, has evolved into a very high-level player.”
When he first started with the Golden Bears, he says he wasn’t very strong, and he’s had to come back from injuries, including a hamstring tear last year and a bad concussion at one point.
Nelson came back from those setbacks though and now the six-foot-six, 300-pound lineman can bench press 25 reps and runs a sub 5.00 40-yard dash, which he says is pretty good for his size.
In his own estimation, his main strengths are his optimism, energy, athleticism and speed, his consistency and how hard he works to know his playbook.
He says he’s fortunate he’s flexible, as it allows him to train at full motion, stretch out quickly and makes him good at covering ground.
This past year has been a challenge as well, with the sporadic accessibility to gyms and not being able to train with his teammates.
It’s been difficult working out alone in the shop at home with limited equipment without his teammates to feed off each other’s energy, he says.
He usually does squats with 400 lb weights, but doesn’t have that to work with at home.
So, true to his farm boy upbringing, he’s made due by flipping hay bales and hauling farm equipment around.
“It worked out for me.”
Although his family sold most of the land when he started university, his mother still raises and trains barrel horses.
Nelson still fosters a love for agriculture, and has said in the past that if he ever won the lottery, his dream would be to own land and grow grain.
Since a grain combine costs upwards of half-a-million-dollars, Nelson laughs and says “that would be the life.”
Nelson grew up watching the Edmonton Football Team, so to be drafted by them is a dream come true.
They were one of his favourite teams (along with the Minnesota Vikings), because they were local, but also because they had a really good d-line that resonated with his own game, he says.
The Golden Bears’ head coach also played for Edmonton in the 2004 grey cup, which Nelson remembers watching, even though he was only seven years old.
So to play for the team his coach was on is also pretty cool, he says.
Nelson figures he’s been playing football since he was about 10 years old.
Nelson attended St. Augustine School in Ponoka up until Grade 9. During that time, he played football in Lacombe as there were no pee wee or bantam teams in Ponoka back then.
He attended Ponoka Composite high School (now Secondary Campus) for Grade 10 where he also played football. Then, the Broncs head coach was Scott McGregor.
Nelson attended the Lacombe Composite High School for Grades 10 and 11.
Some of his fondest memories of growing up in Ponoka are playing football with friends he went to school with at St. A’s, and later being on the Broncs with other teammates who were playing 12-man football for the first time.
“Being part of that transition … seeing them play for the first time … I got to be a player coach and help guys out,” he said.
“I enjoyed it, for sure.”
It was when he started attending football camps in Edmonton that he started to consider football seriously as a career.
He says seeing the calibre of professional that taught the camps is what really caught his interest.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I could actually do this as a job … that’s kind of what sparked that.’”
Nelson is in his last year of his sociology degree at the University of Alberta and would’ve finished next year. However, that he’s been drafted, he’ll only be able to attend classes during the winter semester, but when he graduates, it’ll be as a second-year player in the CFL.