When Kyle Nelson walked off the stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center Friday night, he not only took his Johnston High School diploma, he left with a reputation of being “one of the best pure talented athletes we have seen at JHS in a long time.”
That statement above came from Joe Acciardo, the Panthers’ head football and head baseball coach, who was very familiar with Nelson’s talents during his undergraduate days on Cherry Hill.
Football wise, Acciardo wanted it known: “No one in recent history has punted the football as high and/or as far as Kyle could. He could punt the ball with a spiral better than most people would throw one.”
Opposing coaches felt equally as strong about Nelson, and thus named him an All-State punter after the 2016 season.
His punting career, in fact, received a boost from Bruce Mastracchio, a Rhode Island high school playing and coaching legend from East Greenwich, who reserved some of his spare time to help Nelson with his kicking game.
Nelson, though, was much more than a punter at JHS.
“He had speed and size in the backfield and the ability to scramble like a guy half his size,” Acciardo said of his quarterback, who was recently named the Panthers’ 2016-17 Male Athlete of the Year. “He had a cannon for an arm and he could run around in the backfield and still find receivers down field. No one could outrun his powerful arm.”
Opposing coaches also knew of Nelson’s strong arm and they had to plan accordingly and always went into a game vs. JHS trying to prevent the Panthers from breaking the game wide open via a Nelson bomb.
“His ability to run and scramble, plus the fact he could throw the ball deep, kept teams on their heels,” Acciardo added.
Nelson was also the Panthers’ captain in his junior and seniors seasons.
“He also played wide receiver and had size and speed, plus a great pair of hands,” the Panthers’ coach related. “Kyle was one of those players that wherever we put him he could make an impact. He is a great kid that you love to coach. He had a ton of respect and never made excuses on the field. He will definitely be missed both on and off the field.”
Nelson also left JHS as the top individual thrower in the Panthers’ track and field history, as he was No. 1 in the discus (149 feet); shot put (46.9 feet); javelin (139 feet); hammer (135.4 feet); and weight throw (20.10 feet).
The son of Ted and Arlene Nelson, Kyle played four sports – football, basketball, baseball and track and field – in his senior season and won All-State, All-Division and a number of individual meet championships in track and field during his JHS career.
Perhaps it was Bob Palazzo, who coached Nelson in middle school basketball, who could be credited with discovering the JHS grad’s talents in track and field.
“Kyle is a self-taught thrower,” Palazzo, who is the Classical High athletic director and track coach who watched and helped Nelson improve his throwing mechanics, noted. He later went on to win the middle school state discus throw title.
The high point of his schoolboy track career came two weeks ago when Nelson finished as state champion runner-up in the discus throw, and thus landed All-State honors.
During his track days at JHS, Nelson had three coaches – Dan Mazzulla, Greta Lalli and Lou DiMaio – who were all extremely encouraging and supportive and also recognized his talents.
“Kyle’s work ethic and skills were apparent from my first encounters with him,” DiMaio, who is the current JHS coach, offered. “He would often practice with the team, on his own and with his personal trainer. He was persistent and tenacious. His drive to be successful and competitive was an important part of the team’s motivation.”
There was another side of Nelson’s make-up that impressed DiMaio – and other coaches – he came in contact with during his years on Cherry Hill.
“Kyle Nelson is also well-liked by his coaches and athletes from other schools,” DiMaio offered. “His amicable and friendly demeanor during meets made him friends across the state.”
No coach, though, knew Nelson better than Ed Bedrosian, long-time president of the Johnston Little League and current head boys’ basketball coach at JHS.
“Kyle is truly one of the best students I enjoyed coaching,” Bedrosian related. “He was a very disciplined and reliable player. Because of his leadership, I promoted him to captain halfway through our basketball season. He always treated his fellow teammates, coaches, officials and me with the utmost respect.”
Bedrosian, who coached Nelson during his Little League baseball days and for the past four years in JHS basketball, went on: “Kyle wasn’t always the most talented (basketball) player on the floor, but he played the game hard from start to finish.”
So, Kyle Nelson has left many marks – and memories – at JHS. He’ll enroll at CCRI in September and could be back on the football field and track at several colleges that are currently recruiting the multi-sport performer because of his unlimited sports prowess.
Although some of those glory-filled team championships eluded Nelson and his fellow Panthers, he’s quick to point out: “In the end, the record doesn’t matter. How close you are with your teammates does; because the memories will never go away. I’ve met some of my best friends playing sports.”
Nelson, who, like many teenagers, recently began working a summer job at The Last Resort in Smithfield, paused then offered with a serious smile on his face: “Not everyone has the talent, but a kid’s heart talks the most. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people that pushed me the hardest to succeed…my coaches, parents and teammates. Mindset is the No. 1 tool for greatness.”