Elk River coach Paul Nelson comes from a prominent wrestling family, and there’s no question who their crown jewel is. That would be Tony Nelson, Paul’s nephew, two-time national heavyweight champion for the Minnesota Gophers.
The senior from Cambridge-Isanti won NCAA titles his sophomore and junior years and is currently ranked No. 2. His career record is 119-14. This year, Nelson is 21-3 with three close losses, two of them to Michigan freshman Adam Coon.
“When Tony was born, he weighed 13 pounds, 14 ounces,” Paul said. “He had a natural great build as he grew up. He was always real well-defined. He was not real intense until about 11th grade. Then he started training hard.”
Regulars at Gopher matches the past four years have been the four Nelson brothers — Todd (Tony’s father), Tom, Tony and Paul, all of them ex-wrestlers — and their families. Next for the Nelsons is Sunday’s match when the No. 4 Gophers (8-1) host Indiana.
Paul Nelson, youngest of the four, was state 167-pound champion for Elk River in 1986. His family moved here while Paul was in high school. Tom, Todd and Tony (same name as his famous nephew) all wrestled for Mounds View. Tony had one fifth-place finish at state. Todd never went to state but blossomed in college and won three MIAC titles with St. Thomas.
“I was always aware that my dad wrestled and his brothers, too,” said the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Gopher heavyweight. “My dad got me started in first grade. I fell in love with it. … I played some basketball, too, but I was good at wrestling.”
At Cambridge-Isanti, Nelson was a two-time state champion, star linebacker and outstanding student. He majors in engineering.
Todd Nelson, who sells office furniture, and wife Sandi have two sons and two daughters. The other son played basketball and baseball.
Paul Nelson, an industrial technologies teacher, has been Elk head coach for six years. Paul’s family had five girls along with the four boys. There’s also two nephews wrestling for New Prague and one for North Dakota State.
The Gophers under coach J. Robinson are a perennial national power and draw pretty well, too. The match against Wisconsin had 4,217 fans.
“I have to say it has been a wild ride,” Paul Nelson said. “Our entire family is so proud of Tony and his wrestling accomplishments. Over the past four years, we have been able to follow Tony as a family going down to Williams Arena or gathering in my sister Katje’s, who is Tony’s godmother, living room to watch on Internet access.”
Last year more than 20 family members attended nationals in Des Moines, and “a bunch of us are going again this year to Oklahoma City.”