Man Of All Seasons: Jacob Nelson

You can call Jacob Nelson a man of all seasons.  He is involved with rugby all year round. From playing for San Francisco Golden Gate’s (SFGG) top sides, to coaching rugby, to his day jobs as a professional strength and conditioning coach to being the founder/director to the Tight Five 7s.

Jacob Nelson in his S&C mode. 

Jacob Nelson in his S&C mode. 

By day Jacob is a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach. Earning a bachelors degree from Humboldt State in Kinesiology, he also got an internship in 2009 after college with the National Strength & Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs where he earned additional training and certifications.  While in Colorado, Jacob also played for the Glendale Raptors for a year. Making the two hour drive back and forth to play and study.  

Jacob’s passion other that rugby is doing team Strength and Conditioning (S&C) and for the past three years he’s been the S&C Coach for Cal Maritime in the Bay Area. Cal Maritime Rugby (a varsity program) has been a dominant program in NSCRO  including the past three years.  Now, Jacob doesn’t attribute their success to his work with the team, but on the same hand you can’t dismiss it either. Jacob said the best part other than getting to work with players at Cal Maritime is to be able to do his work the brand weight room and training facilities.

“I also do the S&C work with Gate but it isn’t a formal thing. Guys will ask me to put together a workout for them, or sometimes I’ll write up a workout on the board for anyone who is going into the weight room that wants something structured” said Jacob. He does leave out his work with SFGG's 7s for the World Club 7s Championship that competed in Dublin Ireland  in 2013 (which had the likes of Danny Barrett, Carlin Isles, Mikey Te'o, and Volney Rouse to name a few).His contributions to SFGG as a S&C coach are more important than he'll lead on .  Outside of these team gigs he primarily works with clients on an individual bases which is how he provides for his family.

Jacob’s resume is not limited to just work as a professional S&C coach; he’s also got a very respectable rugby and coaching success.

Alex Houser (L) and Jacob Nelson (R) as All Blues WPL Coaches in 2014

Alex Houser (L) and Jacob Nelson (R) as All Blues WPL Coaches in 2014

“I didn’t plan to get into rugby coaching it was just something to do and I guess it grew from there” says Jacob. In college Jacob told us he had to learn 18 different sports so that was where the coaching spark may have come from. His first coaching role started with him leading the SFGG High School Academy camp. This was a mix of several days in the summer of camps held by SFGG at St Mary’s College, as well as camps/sessions that were spread over a few weekends. Many of the players he coached went on to play for the likes of Cal and St. Mary’s. From there he got an opportunity to coach the fabled (we say that because the list of championships they’ve amasses is hard to beat) Berkeley All Blues 7s team.  “I was able to coach the ladies in 2013 where we finished 3rd in the nation and 2014 and where we finished 4th in the nation, from there I was brought in  to coach the forwards for 15s” Jacob informed us. It should be noted that he  went on to be the forwards coach for the All Blues Women’s Premier League side. 

Most recently he was given the reigns of the NorCal Women’s Pelicans the Union’s women’s select side. “It was truly an honor to be thought of for a role like that which allows you to represent the union. I am really honored that the NorCal administrators trust me and my ability to charge me with leading the Women’s Select side”. For Jacob getting the call to coach the best women’s players for NorCal has not been something that he’s taken lightly. NorCal has really begun to invest in its Pelicans (Select Side) program and Jacob noted that the sides are identifying some of the top men’s and women’s players, but also there is great support from the union in getting some quality coaches and really trying to feature the players.

We asked why Jacob though he got the nod?  Somewhat humbly Jacob didn’t credit all his work as a coach, as a person who has been involved on the rugby scene in the bay for some time now (even though he’s still young) and that he’s also a proven high level rugby player. When pressed, Jacob acknowledge that all those factors likely helped when we pointed them out, he also noted that a number of the decision makers in the Union and with regional efforts are people he met, and played with or for when he first started out and so its trust built over time and with commitment.

We asked Jacob how he actually started out. He shared that he didn’t pick up rugby until his senior year of high school. Jacob went to school in a small town near Davis (Winters to be exact). He was done with football, was getting ready for track when a guy who had previously played at Jesuit HS (in Sacramento) had moved to Winters and encouraged Jacob take a run at rugby. His first venture into rugby started with a club in Davis that was lead by USA Rugby Hall of Famer Mike Purcell (not a bad way to start your rugby). “So a guy tells me to come and play rugby in the spring. I was already doing track but gave it a shot. I ended up playing 4-5 games. I’d already signed a letter of intent to play football at Humboldt State and so I went. I played football for two years at Humboldt State, and then went to see the rugby coach about playing rugby”. You basically know the rest from there.

Jacob as we noted played at Glendale for a season before joining SFGG. With SFGG he’s been a part of their Elite Cup side, the old Super League, the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) , DI and DII sides as well as now the California Cup. This season Jacob will play for SFGG’s D1 side following the California Cup and then have some time before moving into the PRP. “With PRO starting their season last year in the middle of the 15s season and then running through the club 7s’ season I think really disrupted clubs. We all want to play at the next level, we all want to see guys have the next progression in the process, but the way that was rolled out, and now being run is just not good for the game” said Jacob with regard to the postponement of the PRP to allow PRO to run their season.

SFGG Prop Jacob Nelson  after Cal Cup Match versus O-Club. Photo by Andrew Kearney 2016. 

SFGG Prop Jacob Nelson  after Cal Cup Match versus O-Club. Photo by Andrew Kearney 2016. 

Jacob was playing with SFGG’s PRP side last season, when he was called up by PRO to be a Tier 3/Game Day player.  Jacob reported that he told PRO that he was available for that week, but then there would be changes at the last minute. Jacob said that there were a number of players who were getting called up for game day contracts due to injuries, but then PRO started to tell players there were too many Tier 3 players and paying for game day players or stand byes.  “Some of us were told during our PRP season that if we wanted to play PRO we either went then, or we wouldn’t ever be given contracts. For a lot of us this is our club, we’ve paid dues, trained and committed to the season, we couldn’t or wouldn’t just leave our teammates, but PRO told us waiting to the end of our season was not an option” stated  Jacob. For him some of those things with PRO left him with a bad experience.  

“I want professional rugby. We need that as a rugby community. We all want to see guys go to the next level and the Bay Are is a huge market, but it (PRO) was just not done right” reflected Jacob. Not letting some players finish their season or not letting players go back to their clubs, etc. were all the things that Jacob thinks really hurt PRO.  He however feels that professional rugby will be back in the bay area, and feels that the California Cup is setting the ground work. Jacob broke it down like this “Well, SFGG, Life West and Olympic Club (O-Club) are all able to use their best players for the Cal Cup competition, in addition to that top guys from other clubs can go play for one of these clubs without any type of penalty which would then prevent them from going back to their come club for the D1 Club season, or PRP, etc. So it allows us to see who the top guys are, get the top guys playing with and against other guys at least for this six game competition”.  He then goes on to say “I think when we get a professional team here in the San Francisco Bay Area you’ll see it will be made up of guys who played for one of the three area Cal Cup teams” explained Jacob. He noted that in many other countries players move up and down the various levels of competition, from international players and professionals, to local club, provincial sides, etc. and he noted the California Cup is starting to mirror that style.

Jacob who is a prop (possibly with the thickest legs of any prop especially when you note his height) loves the California Cup competition so far. The competition has parity he said and with the exception of a few games everyone has to play their best each week to win, its not a given and it will really help players develop as they face other top level opposition.

After the CA Cup Nelson will transition into the NorCal D1 competition as we noted earlier. The PRP postponed its season so it would not conflict with PRO rugby (who while still at this time “plans” to have a second season, but not likely), would have left players like Jacob sitting for an extended period. However, as we noted in a earlier article in October the NorCal D1 competition has changed and both Cal Cup and PRP sides (SFGG and O-Club) will play in the NorCal D1 again with the likes of EPA-Razorbacks, Sacramento Lions, Santa Rosa RFC, and Life West. For Jacob any rugby is good rugby, but going from the Cal Cup into revamped NorCal D1 season before then going into the PRP will really have him and others playing top level rugby almost all year long. “I’d play every single weekend if they let me” says Jacob. “In this set up with some of the clubs having their best players, having some professionals, even internationals  means that D1 will be a really good competition and a great place for talent to be assessed and developed. So I am excited for the level of rugby we are seeing” Jacob noted. It will also really build up the California teams and players who will then play in the next PRP competition.

Now you hopefully see why we titled this piece on Jacob Nelson “A Man Of All Seasons”. This guy is involved in rugby year round with his playing, coaching, training and don’t forget the Tight Five 7s.  Jacob is not just a player he is truly a rugby guy, a club guy, an active member of the rugby community. You do see some guys who function as a rugby mercenary, go play anywhere for a season/competition, but they play and  then leave. They don’t have the connection to the clubs, to their community to others. Not this guy and for that he and others like him make rugby better!

Thank you to Jacob Nelson for his time and his work. Also check out the Tight Five 7s as well (especially you tight fives and old boys).  We wish Jacob the best with the rest of the California Cup and the rest of the coming season.