For the Gators football team, there has been only one safety to earn a nickname as powerful as former Gators safety Reggie Nelson did. "The Eraser" became iconic seemingly the minute he stepped foot on the gridiron at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and the impact he would make on the program would last, seemingly, for a lifetime.
While his impact will last, his stint with the Gators was rather short-lived.
Due to requirement issues, Nelson couldn't enroll at the university after signing with the team in 2003. Instead, Nelson took the junior college (JUCO) route, enrolling at Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville (Kan.) where he would play for two years (redshirting his first season) before finally realizing what he set out to do out of high school, play at the University of Florida.
Nelson took little time making his presence felt in the Gators' single-high safety scheme in 2005, playing in 11 games and starting four only as a redshirt sophomore. On the year, Nelson tallied 46 tackles (32 solos), four tackles for loss, four sacks and an interception.
The safety out of Melbourne (Fla.) was a menace in all areas of the field. With his ability to either hit the receiver before he was able to make a reception or simply pick the ball off as it was thrown int he middle of the football field, Nelson was quickly known by his peers, coaches, and spectators as "The Eraser". A player who was able to be sure no one could get beyond the team's last line of defense.
It wasn't until 2006, Nelson's junior season, when he was able to truly showcase his talents - donning the exalted No. 1 jersey, he epitomized what it meant to be a Florida Gator. Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer glowed when speaking about Nelson's ability in 2006, Nelson's final season at Florida.
“He does it all,” Meyer said via the OcalaStarBanner in 2006. “He’s an energizer. He’s a leader. Some of the great ones, I could list a bunch of them. He’s that type of player that you just knew where he was at all times. He’s a great tackler and he’s a great athlete. He can cover and tackle.
"He could be our punt returner, he’s our punt blocker, he blocked two punts. He’s just all over the field. He makes a play when you have to make a play to seal the win against Tennessee, he sealed the win against Alabama. He’s as good a playmaker as I’ve ever been around.”
Nelson could do it all, and during it's BCS Championship run, he practically did. Accumulating 51 tackles (34 solos), two tackles for loss, six interceptions, one touchdown and two blocked punts, including one against the LSU Tigers which helped propel the Gators to a 26-10 victory.
The Gators would go on to win the BCS Championship on the backs of the Gators defense and Nelson.
Nelson would finish the season as a finalist for the Jim Thrope award, given to the best defensive back in the nation, a consensus All-American and made the first-team All-SEC for the season.
We asked Gators fans what Nelson meant to the program, and themselves as a whole via social media earlier this week. One of the responses was simple, yet perfectly summed up.
A decade after leaving the Gators in 2007 - the time it takes for a player to be inducted -, Nelson was inducted into the Florida Gators Athletics Hall of Fame.
Continuing his career at the professional level, Nelson would remain in Florida, drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 21st overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Nelson's career in Jacksonville began on a high note, accumulating five interceptions in his rookie season, the most of any rookie that season and earning himself a place on the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team.
His career in Jacksonville would be shortlived, however, after the former Gators legend was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals shortly before his fourth season in the NFL in 2010. In Jacksonville, Nelson wasn't able to realize his potential, however, with the Bengals, his career would take off.
As a member of the Bengals, Nelson would go on to start 83 games in six years in Cincinnati which included two Pro Bowl seasons in 2015 and 2016. Over that span of his career, Nelson accumulated 462 tackles (313 solos), 21 tackles for loss, 23 interceptions, and five forced fumbles.
From 2007 to 2015, Nelson accumulated 30 interceptions, the most by any safety who entered the NFL in 2007, according to Pro Football Reference, and he had the fourth-most interceptions by any player during that span.
Following his career with the Bengals, Nelson would finish his career in Oakland with the Raiders coached by his first professional head coach, Jack Del Rio.
While his career in Oakland was not as successful as it was in Cincinnati, Nelson would start 39 games in his final three years in the NFL, notching 183 tackles (135 solos), eight interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
At age 35, following the 2018 season, Nelson would never play another down in the NFL. however, prior to the 2019 season, Nelson was second in the NFL since 2011 in interceptions with 29.
A Gators legend through and through, Nelson has since gone down as not only one of the greatest collegiate safeties, but he more than deserves more recognition for his play at the professional level.
Reggie "The Eraser" Nelson.