When Arvell Nelson signed with the Cleveland Gladiators during the second week of 2017 Arena Football League season, his position on the roster read: “Jack Linebacker.” Since beginning his AFL career in 2012, Nelson has also seen time at wide receiver and defensive back, but as we enter Week 6 of the Gladiators’ season, the position next to his name reads the same as when he began his career: “Quarterback.”
“I’ve been playing [quarterback] since I was eight years old… The first time going on the field I was a receiver, coach overthrew me, I threw the ball back, and ever since then I’ve been a quarterback,” Nelson said as he reflected on the start of his football career. “As a kid you always dream to play professional football in your own city and I have that opportunity now.”
Nelson entered the AFL as a QB for the Spokane Shock, but injuries and suspensions left an opening at Jack Linebacker during his time with the Shock, and as the next man up he stepped up and filled in.
“I came in and played jack, and took quarterback reps, so I was practicing jack every practice but I would come in as a scout team quarterback, so every day I was getting reps at quarterback,” Nelson said. “I was just preparing myself every day to be ready when my time was called.”
Nelson’s first start at QB for the Gladiators came on April 29th, 2016, a game in which he threw for 332 yards and six touchdowns. He ended the 2016 campaign with 3,425 passing yards, 70 touchdowns, and Week 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. This first AFL taste of the position he grew up playing had special meaning for the Cleveland (Glenville) native.
“Especially as a starting quarterback in your city, you’re playing in front of your family and friends, it was just a great feeling,” explained Nelson. “I wanted to prepare myself to be ready for that moment. When that first snap, that first moment happened, I did pretty well but I feel like I can improve so much more. So that’s what I’m working on now, trying to improve and become the best quarterback I can be.”
When the 2017 season rolled around, he was once again on the field as a jack linebacker but Nelson has been ready to do whatever the Gladiators coaching staff has asked him. “Coach called me up and asked me to play a role on the team, and I’m always willing to help,” said Nelson. “He wanted me to play jack linebacker and possibly backside corner and I was willing to do it, anything to help the team win.” Since that return he has found himself back under center and provided eight scores on the road in Tampa Bay, five touchdowns in the Glads’ Week 4 win over the Washington Valor, and a season-high nine scores against the defending ArenaBowl Champion Philadelphia Soul in Week 5.
It looks to be the start of a record-setting campaign for Nelson as he became the first AFL player since 2013 to record back-to-back 50 plus yard rushing games (60 yards on the ground in each of his past two starts). In just three games, Nelson has 133 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns to his credit, along with 915 passing yards and 18 touchdown throws. But according to Nelson, there is lots of room to grow and improve, especially as Cleveland’s starting signal-caller.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” explained Nelson. “I’m going to make mistakes, it’s just my job to correct them, my job to pick the team up, carry the load on my back, and get better every day so that when game time comes you’re ready and still trying to improve because the ultimate goal is the ArenaBowl.”