By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – As a youngster, Levi Nelson said he traveled to Green Bay many times to watch Green Bay Packers practices and games.
“Instead of going to Florida on spring break, my mom, brother and I would vacation every year in Green Bay,” he said.
Years later, the 33-year-old Nelson said his dream is coming true after he accepted the head football coaching position at Green Bay East High School.
“Most people dream of retiring on the beach, but not me,” said Nelson. “I’m a Christian man, and I’ve always prayed for a bigger platform. When I saw the job at East and read about the team’s history with the Packers, I applied. Despite growing up in Ohio, I’ve always dreamed of retiring and coaching football here. I don’t have a lot of hobbies in life, but I do follow the Packers. To coach on the same sidelines as Curly Lambeau once did is amazing.”
Green Bay played at City Stadium, where East plays its home games, from 1925-56.
Nelson said his high school alma mater was nicknamed the Red Devils (like East), and he has a dog named Nitschke after the former Packers’ linebacker.
“We got involved in the interview process, and I was blown away by how the administration believes in what athletics can do for young people,” he said. “I’m going to bust my butt to win football games, but that’s not my No. 1 goal. I go by the LEAD philosophy – Love, Effort, Attitude and Discipline. The administration said it wants to win football games, too, but instilling those values into the student-athletes at East is the most important thing.”
Wins have come few and far between for the Red Devils in recent times.
East has gone a combined 5-32 during the last four seasons and last made the WIAA playoffs in 2007.
“I know it’ll be a challenge, but every day you contribute to the culture where you work/coach,” said Nelson. “First and foremost, my coaches and I have to create relationships with the players. It will take some time, but I’m going to be enthusiastic and be myself.”
Steph Mathu, East athletic director, said the school had 17 applicants for the position.
“We are excited to have Levi as a teacher and coach at East,” she said. “We were impressed with his LEAD philosophy, and we are excited to see him implement that with our athletes. He has lots of enthusiasm, and that showed through during the interview process.”
The Red Devils will be moving to the Fox River Classic Conference this season.
Green Bay West, Manitowoc Lincoln, Notre Dame Academy, Sheboygan North, Sheboygan South and Menasha will be in their division.
Nelson said he’s looking forward to the rivalry with West.
“I’m still learning about the rivalry, but my high school rival was the Purple Riders,” he said. “To find out West wears purple made me smile. Pinch me – to coach in that game will be special, and I can’t wait.”
Currently residing in Kent, Ohio, Nelson attended the University of Akron and grew up in Saint Clairsville, Ohio.
“It’s been a crazy time,” he said. “We sold our house in Ohio, need to buy a house in Green Bay, I’ve been playing Mr. Mom for my one-year-old daughter and I need to hire a new coaching staff. The Lord will provide, and we trust in his plan.”
Nelson will be a teacher at East, mainly teaching health/physical education.
He was a high school teacher/coach for six years and has been teaching since 2010 at Akron, where he received his master’s degree.
He also has a doctorate in sports performance psychology.
“My wife, Lindsay, is from Philadelphia, but went to the University of Miami in Florida to get away from the cold,” said Nelson. “For her to be on board with this move shows lots about her. I’m excited to have my daughter grow up in Green Bay. I love the town and people – I think it’s one of the most special places on Earth.”