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The Nelson family focuses on doing their best — not besting others

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 11 2011 11:52 p.m. MDT

Nelson brothers D.J., left, Riley, middle and Chase, right.

Photo courtesy of Nelson family

LOGAN — Only one thing was more talked about than BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's 96-yard touchdown drive that capped the Cougars dramatic, come-from-behind win against Utah State two weeks ago — his long, wavy hair.

It was a brief controversy though, as Nelson received a haircut the very next day. (And it wasn't because of the Facebook page devoted to his hair.)

"We saw him (Saturday) afternoon," said his father, Keith Nelson, "that next afternoon, and his hair was already taken care of."

But, for the record, it wasn't vanity — or rebellion — that caused Nelson to grow his locks a little longer than BYU's honor code allows.

It was brotherly love.

"I don't really know where any of it began," said Nelson's younger brother D.J., who is a senior and quarterback of the Logan High football team. "(I) and a couple of the football players just started growing out our hair in the spring and over the summer. We took on a thing where the hair gives you power, like Samson in the bible and Porter Rockwell. …The hair gives us power."

And then his mom, Joni Nelson, who does not approve of the long locks on any of the boys, adds, "Riley pushed the limits in solidarity with his brothers."

D.J. laughs as he confirms this.

"He was growing it out with us," he said smiling at the youngest of the three Nelson boys, Chase, a sophomore, as both of them still sport the longer hairstyle.

The long hair was just a tangible example of how the Nelson boys share more than just a surname. Keith and Joni Nelson managed to raise four children marinated in the perfect blend of competitiveness and cohesiveness. They are driven in their personal goals, while also fiercely supportive of the endeavors of their siblings.

"Riley talks to each one of them two or three times a day," said Keith Nelson. "They bounce things off each other."

Adds Joni, "He really works hard at staying a part of their lives. He calls them, encourages them and calls them before and after their games."

D.J. said having his brother on the sideline of his games gives him an extra edge.

"The couple of games that Riley's been on the sideline, it's like having another coach there," said D.J. "One that, well, it's like watching yourself play from the sideline. We both play football the same way; we run the same offense in high school. It's like having yourself evaluate your play."

Part of their synergy comes from their shared experiences — including growing up in a family that's passion for athletics has to be in the DNA.

Life for the Nelsons doesn't revolve around athletics, but it certainly permeates most of what they do. In addition to football, all of the boys play baseball, while the Nelson's only daughter, Jordan, danced and was a cheerleader at Logan High and at Utah State.

"I came from an athletic family," said Joni Nelson, who is a USU alum. "My father was a coach and an athletic director at Utah State, and dancing is a competitive thing, and that's just what I was raised in."

A passion for sports was established long before Riley Nelson became one of the state's best high school quarterbacks. The junior at BYU first gained notoriety as Logan High's quarterback, where he led the Grizzlies to a 3A state title in 2005 and shattered nine state high school records. He earned about every accolade a prep star can earn including, Gatorade Player of the Year, Parade All-American and Deseret News Mr. Football.

But in reality, Riley was just one in a long line of Nelsons, and Tuellers, who flourished on the football field.

Keith Nelson won a state football title at Logan High, along with an uncle, and Joni's father played for a state title.

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