It would have made sense for DaKaari Nelson, the most recent pledge in Penn State football’s 2023 recruiting class, to commit to a southern school.
The four-star safety from Selma High School in Selma, Alabama, could have picked Auburn, which is less than two hours away from Selma.
He could have picked Clemson, one of college football’s premier programs over the past half-decade, with two national championships, four title game appearances and six trips to the college football playoff since 2015. Nelson said Clemson would have been the pick if Penn State wasn’t.
He could have picked Tennessee; an SEC school thought by many to be on the rise under coach Josh Heupel, who’s entering his second season.
Instead, Nelson chose Penn State, which until this past Tuesday, when four-star defensive end TJ Parker committed, hadn’t had a player from the state of Alabama pledge since 2014.
Because of multiple factors, such as Nelson’s relationship with head coach James Franklin, safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter and assistant recruiting coordinator Alan Zemaitis, and how the coaching staff treated him and his family on their visits to Penn State, Nelson decided Happy Valley is where he wants to be.
Barring a change of heart, Saturday marked the end of a wonderful but stressful recruiting process for Nelson.
Nelson told Nittany Sports Now roughly four hours after his commitment that he feels “relaxed and excited” about shifting his focus to the upcoming high school season.
“It feels great,” Nelson said. “It takes a lot off my shoulders. Now, I can just focus on helping my team.”
In a previous interview with Nittany Sports Now conducted June 12 following Nelson’s official visit to Penn State, Nelson said Penn State was his “No. 1 school.”
At that time, however, his mind wasn’t made up, and he pondered his decision throughout the past week.
Kentucky and Oregon were out of consideration, but the other four were still in play.
“I was just praying about it, talking to my family,” Nelson said. “Then I finally made the decision around probably, I’d say, Thursday.”
Friday evening, Nelson revealed via Twitter that he’d be announcing his commitment Saturday at 2 Central Time, 3 Eastern.
The next day, he was ready to tell the coaching staff the good news.
Franklin was in a meeting, so the coach Nelson first told was Zemaitis, a fitting choice, since Zemaitis played a “huge” role in Nelson’s recruitment, was one of the first coaches Penn State coaches Nelson got to know and is somebody who Nelson has grown close to.
An elated Zemaitis relayed the message to the boss, and good feelings soon spread through Penn State’s coaching staff.
— Trickster 🃏 (@dakaari_nelson) June 25, 2022
In the hours since Nelson’s commitment went public, an abundance of Penn State fans have either tweeted at Nelson or expressed their excitement in another manner via social media.
Nelson said he “knew Penn State fans were great,” but seeing that outpouring of support was a pleasant surprise.
“That’s when I knew that it was bigger than I thought it would be,” he said.
Sweet home Alabama, where James Franklin finds all his recruits 🎶
— PSU Everything (@PSU_Strong) June 25, 2022
Now a Penn State commit, Nelson will try to take after what 2023 quarterback Marcus Stokes and other Penn State commits have done and sell other recruits on Penn State the way they helped do for him.
Between now and 2023, however, Nelson still has some unfinished business at Selma, and helping his team to a state championship will be the No. 1 goal for his last high school season.
He’ll unquestionably play a central part in how far Selma goes, coming off a season with eight interceptions and two pick sixes. Nelson is also a leader in the sense that he’s been calling defensive plays since his freshman season.
After high school, Nelson plans to carve a legacy at Penn State.
“I don’t have to focus on finding a home,” Nelson said, “because I’ve found a home now.”