For Duluth Denfeld senior offensive lineman Erik Nelson, the decision to sign with hometown Minnesota Duluth was an easy one.
The school has the programs he's eyeing - either computer science or civil engineering - and the two-time national champion Bulldogs are one of the premier programs in NCAA Division II football.
But that's not what made his decision to attend UMD easy.
"I've never really had people be this engaging with me," Nelson said Wednesday during his signing ceremony after school. "After I verbally committed, they continued to talk to me and do all those things. That stood out to me. I was happy with that."
After verbally committing to the Bulldogs in the fall, Nelson was one of 28 high school seniors who signed a national letter of intent Wednesday to enroll at UMD in the fall. The only Duluth recruit among the Class of 2019, Nelson said he was treated just like everyone else throughout the recruiting process, even if he wasn't like everyone else.
Bulldogs coach Curt Wiese and his staff didn't take it for granted that the hometown product would automatically become a Bulldog, Nelson said.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Nelson is as athletic as they come, and not just for a lineman. The 2018 News Tribune All-Area selection started the year lined up as a tight end for the Hunters before moving inside to guard. He also played on the defensive line and plays basketball this winter.
Now retired Hunters football coach Frank Huie said what make Nelson elite is his athleticism and his athletic intelligence.
"I could take him and play him at guard, tackle, defensive end, tight end. 'Hey, we need you to do this,' " Huie said during Nelson's signing ceremony. "So because of that, he was able to do all those things. The other thing is his desire to become an elite player. That really helped him elevate to that point."
Wiese said Nelson's lean 6-6 frame and footwork jumped off the field immediately to the coaching staff during a camp over the summer. As a Bulldog, Wiese said Nelson will line up as an offensive tackle.
"He has a really big upside as an offensive lineman," Wiese said Wednesday at Malosky Stadium. "Getting to know him and his family throughout the recruiting process, he's a guy that's going to fit what we are looking for. He's got a really good personality. He's done a good job leading his football program. I've had an opportunity to watch him play basketball. On the court he's a leader, and those are the guys we're looking for."
UMD is graduating 22 players - including six linebackers and five offensive linemen - from last year's squad that shared the NSIC regular-season title with a perfect won-loss record. The Bulldogs were upset at home in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Texas A&M-Commerce.
Nelson was one of five offensive linemen the Bulldogs signed Wednesday. UMD also added three wide receivers, two tight ends, two running backs and a quarterback to the offensive side. On the defensive side, UMD inked six linebackers, four defensive linemen and four defensive backs. UMD also signed a kicker.
Among the notable signees are defensive back Marcus Shepley, who finished first all-time in interceptions at Burnsville (Minn.) High School after picking off eight passes and returning two for touchdowns. He is one of two UMD recruits to land on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's All-Metro first team along with Blaine offensive lineman Tyler Strand.
Spring Grove (Minn.) defensive lineman Ethan Matzke landed on both the Associated Press and Minnesota Football Coaches Association All-State first team. Linebacker Logan Eiden of Neenah, Wis., and offensive lineman Liam Fahey of Pulaski, Wis., were named to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Large Schools All-State team.
Half of the 28 players Wiese signed Wednesday were from Wisconsin - including Northwestern's Brody Payton and Reagan Ruffi - while 12 come from Minnesota and one each from Michigan and Illinois.
Payton will line up at safety after primarily playing wide receiver, while Ruffi, the News Tribune and Superior Telegram Player of the Year, will continue as a running back. Ruffi leaves Northwestern as its all-time leading rusher with 4,432 yards, with the 1,981 yards he ran for as a senior breaking his own single-season school record.
"Reagan was one of the first commits in this class and was a guy we had in camp. His athleticism right away jumped off the charts," Wiese said. "Both of those guys, similar things as far as their character. They are really good people with a hard-nosed attitude on the football field."
UMD's Class of 2019 Signees
Name Position School/Hometown
Erik Nelson OL Duluth Denfeld HS/Duluth, Minn.
Brody Payton DB Northwestern HS/Lake Nebagamon, Wis.
Reagan Ruffi RB Northwestern HS/Lake Nebagamon, Wis.
Jackyse Jacox DB Prior Lake HS/Savage, Minn.
Will Holz OL Byron HS/Byron, Minn.
Jariel Lopez-Barrera LB St. Louis Park HS/Crystal, Minn.
Ethan Matzke DL Spring Grove HS/Spring Grove, Minn.
Colin O'Connor QB Prior Lake HW/Savage, Minn.
Caden Osmonson DL Jefferson HS/Bloomington, Minn.
Andrew Reuter WR Rosemount HS/Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
Marcus Shepley DB Burnsville HS/Burnsville, Minn. Tyler Strand OL Blaine HS/Andover, Minn.
Anthony Weldon DB Roseville HS/Maplewood, Minn.
Cooper Yeary WR Stillwater HS/Stillwater, Minn.
R.J. Bosshart WR Muskego HS/Muskego, Wis.
Curtis Cox K Mineral Point HS/Dodgeville, Wis.
Logan Eiden LB Neenah HS/Neenah, Wis.
Liam Fahey OL Pulaski HS/Sobeski, Wis.
Matt Garrity DL Waukesha South HS/Waukesha, Wis.
Dalton Gillette LB Mukwonago HS/Mukwonago, Wis.
Drew Hennessey LB Highland HS/Highland Wis.
Andrew Klopp LB Baldwin-Woodville HS/Baldwin, Wis.
Brian Konz DL Burlington HS/Burlington, Wis.
Sam Mikulak RB Waukesha West HS/Waukesha, Wis.
Jack Peterson LB Somerset HS/Somerset, Wis.
Sam Pitz TE Appleton West HS/Appleton, Wis.
Joel Forgacs TE Churchill HS/Livonia, Mich.
Justin Hull OL St. Charles East HS/West Chicago, Ill.
Around the Northland
Elsewhere, the following Northland football players made Division II commitments Wednesday:
• David Cornelius, DB, Hermantown, Sioux Falls
• Sam Goodwin, OL, Barnum, Minnesota State-Moorhead
• Anthony Provinzino, WR, Duluth East, Southwest Minnesota State
• Justin Sedin, OL, Northwestern, Northern State