Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson captivated an audience of 1,500 fans attending the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference on March 13 in Madison. Nelson spoke and answered questions from the audience for nearly an hour at the conclusion of the two-day conference at the Alliant Energy Center.
Nelson grew up on his family's beef and grain farm near Manhattan, Kan. The farm includes about1,000 acres of pasture for their cow-calf operation and 1,000 acres of crops.
"My grandpa started the farm," Nelson explained. "My dad was an only child. My dad farmed with my grandpa, and my older brother, younger sister and I helped with chores."
Nelson said growing up on a farm helped prepare him for a career as a professional football player.
"You have a lot of responsibility on the farm," he said. "That's just like playing football. My family relied on me to do things on the farm and that's what I do as a football player."
Nelson, 28, has been playing football for 17 years, he said, including the past six years as a Green Bay Packer. He played football all four years in high school and was quarterback his senior year.
"We only had 65 kids in my graduating class," he noted.
He played defensive back at a Division 2 college in Kansas his freshman year and was a walk-on his sophomore year at Kansas State University.
"They switched me to a wide receiver," he said.
Nelson earned All-American honors his senior year at Kansas State and was drafted in 2008 by the Packers in the second round.
"My mom owns a restaurant back home," Nelson recalled. "On the first day of the draft, the restaurant was packed. There was a big screen TV in the front of the restaurant. I was sitting in the back when I got a call on my cell phone. It was a 920 number and I had no idea where that was from. I answered the phone, I think it was Coach McCarthy and he asked me if I wanted to be a Green Bay Packer. I don't know why they ask that, of course I want to be a Packer."
Did he know where Green Bay was?
"I did," he said. "I knew where Wisconsin was. I knew it was cold! I knew quite a few of the names that had played there."
Two years after being drafted, during his third season with the Packers, Nelson was playing in the Super Bowl.
"I never even imagined being at a Super Bowl much less playing in one," he explained. "It was unbelievable to play that well and win it. I had 20 family members there. It was great. I enjoyed every moment."
Nelson married his high school sweetheart, Emily, seven years ago.
"My father-in-law farms too, not far from my family's farm," Nelson said. The couple has a 4 year old son.
What's the greatest part about playing football in Green Bay?
"Well it's not winter," Nelson said with a hearty laugh. "The nearest town to where I grew up has 450 people. So for my wife and I Green Bay is huge. But it's great that we're still in a smaller town. The food is really good up here. There are a lot of really nice restaurants."
Their second year in Green Bay, Nelson says he and his wife went to Red Lobster to eat dinner.
"This little kid, about 8 years old, walked past me and said, 'Hey Dad, that's Jordy Nelson.' His dad looked at me and said, 'No it isn't.' I always wish I had walked over to their table, introduced myself and shook the boy's hand. It would have been neat to see the look on the dad's face. "
Nelson said he gets back to his family's farm when he can.
"A few years ago, I was having a conversation at a restaurant with some of the players about our farm and I was talking about artificially inseminating our cows," Nelson said. "It went way over their heads. So I took Greg (Jennings) and James (Jones) back to Kansas for a weekend. They toured the farm and they got to see cows getting AI'd."
Nelson said he invites at least one Packer to the farm each year to help with a benefit he holds.
"Randall went two years ago and Aaron went last year."
Nelson said he goes back to the farm every summer for a week to help his brother and to drive the combine during the wheat harvest.
"We work from sun up to sun down," he explains. "Those are some long days and then the next week is training camp. It helps prepare me for training camp."
For the past two years, Nelson has been the spokesperson for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board "Fuel Up to Play 60" program.
"I get an opportunity to go into a school, talk to a class, and hang out with the committee that did all work putting it together," he explains. "I ask the kids 'how many of you play video games?' They all raise their hands and I tell them 'Wrong answer! Put down the controllers and get outside and play.' You don't have to work out, just be active for 60 minutes a day."
Nelson was asked how he stays true to himself.
"I got married seven years ago. I think that's the No. 1 way to stay humble," he said.
Nelson has one more year left on his contract with the Packers. He hopes the Packers will re-sign him.
"We want to be here, I'm pretty sure they know that. It would be great to finish off my career as a Packer."
After he retires from football, Nelson said he plans to return to his family's farm.
"I want to help my brother on the farm. I've already bought some land. I'm trying to figure out what I want to do and what I don't want to do – after all, I'll be retired. I might just be his hired man."
Nelson said he misses being on the farm.
"My brother has three little girls and they're on the farm all the time," he said. "My son loves being on the farm."