Southern Miss redshirt senior Picasso Nelson became a fixture as a defensive back for the Golden Eagles through his first three years on campus. Instead of finishing his career in 2017, like he was slated to do, he missed the entire season due to an undisclosed injury.
At first, it was painful for Nelson and head coach Jay Hopson. Nelson racked up 142 total tackles – 87 solo – and four interceptions through his first three seasons, and he also had seven tackles for a loss. Southern Miss lost a key piece, for sure, but the position had depth in 2017, so the loss of Nelson wasn’t necessarily catastrophic for the defense.
Nelson and Hopson met during the early part of the 2017 campaign and decided to shut it down for the rest of the year. Nelson could have came back from the injury, but with the already deep defensive back position and the potential of new faces in 2018, it wouldn’t have been smart to rush him back.
“That was actually a blessing in disguise,” Hopson said. “When Picasso got injured, we were trying to get him back before the season and we couldn’t get him back. We were doing everything we could because he had been a three-year starter for us.
“He knew he wasn’t 100 percent. At the time of when it happened, we looked at our board and said this would be a blessing in disguise in the long run. He wasn’t healthy and he needed the extra time to get healthy. We said this would help us on the backend.”
Hopson said when the two met about redshirting the 2017 season, the pressure fell off Nelson’s shoulders. After all, the Golden Eagles were deep in the defensive backfield. Tarvarius Moore, Jomez Applewhite, Kelsey Douglas, Curtis Mikell and Cornell Armstrong all played well a season ago, and all five graduated.
“I’m just grateful to be back,” Nelson said after Southern Miss’ third spring practice Saturday. “It was definitely hard sitting out last year, watching my brothers play without me out there. I’m just grateful to be back healthy.
“It was different. It was actually the first time in my life that I wasn’t on the field. It was definitely hard to deal with, but at the end of the day, I was cheering for my brothers.”
Nelson didn’t want to disclose his injury, and it hasn’t been made public. With the year off, he made sure to do everything he could to rehab it properly.
“It took time, like anything,” he said. “Time heals all. I really just took time, after that I just rehabbed and made sure I ate right. I gave my body the fuel and everything it needed to heal properly.
With the type of injury Nelson had, it could have easily been aggravated if he went back to the field too soon. Time for recovery combined with the deep position in 2017, and it made complete sense to take the season off.
But as spring practice started, he’s back on the field and providing the necessary leadership to the inexperienced group. Redshirt senior Xavier Marion and redshirt junior Ernest Gunn, as well as Nelson, were getting first-team reps during Saturday’s practice. Redshirt senior Walden Davis and redshirt sophomore Rachuan Mitchell are back, too.
“I’ve always been somewhat of a leader,” Nelson said. “Even when I was younger. I’m not pressing the fact that I’m older, but I’m pressing the fact that we’re all going to get better together this year. No one is superior than the other. We’re all going to work together, push each other and get better every day.
“We all have something to prove, so we all are going to play hard.”