EUGENE, Ore. — Coach Mark Helfrich certainly wasn’t concerned about Charles Nelson’s missteps in Oregon’s opener, joking that he’d bet his mortgage on the receiver and special teams standout.
Nelson had 288 all-purpose yards for the No. 24 Ducks in the season opener as he transitions back from the defense to the offense. He chalked up a pair of fumbles to first-game jitters.
“For me, and for everybody in here, the coaches just talk about playing the next play, that’s what I try to do: Just brush it off and play the next play,” he said.
Nelson certainly has plenty more plays to focus on this season, starting Saturday night when Oregon (1-0) hosts Virginia (0-1).
Of his overall yards in the 53-28 victory over UC Davis last weekend, 251 came on returns. Nelson averaged 38.3 yards on kickoff returns and 24.5 yards on punt returns.
His 153 total yards on kickoff returns pushed him past Kenjon Barner into fifth on Oregon’s career list with 1,447.
Nelson also successfully rushed for two of Oregon’s four two-point conversion attempts after touchdowns against the Aggies.
The rest of the Ducks agreed that the bookended fumbles on his first and final return attempts were uncharacteristic.
“I would bet my mortgage and all I have on Charles every time out,” Helfrich said. “That’s a guy that makes a million plays for us. He didn’t make one and then he made several and then he tried to maybe make more out of what was there and turned it over.”
Quarterback Dakota Prukop weighed in: “It was surprising because that’s not something you expect out of Charles. If it’s going to happen, let it happen in the first game. I don’t foresee that being an issue at all the rest of the season.”
Nelson has always been a versatile and intriguing player. As a freshman from Daytona Beach, Florida, he turned heads in his first college game with a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown against North Dakota in 2014. He developed as the season progressed, and had seven catches for 104 yards in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona. Oregon went on to play in the first College Football Playoff title game that season.
Last season he started at receiver, but made his debut at safety in a 45-38 double-overtime loss to Washington State on Oct. 10. He finished with a team-high 12 tackles against the Cougars while also playing at receiver and on special teams. Injuries necessitated the move.
He moved back to wide receiver this year, explaining that he was happy to be able to focus on only one job.
“It was a mutual decision between the coaches and I,” he said at the time. “I told them I wanted to play receiver but if the time comes, I could always go back over there.”
In the opener, he fumbled his first punt return of the game to give UC Davis the ball on the Oregon 33. The Aggies went on to score. His second fumble came on a kickoff return in the third quarter. It, too, gave the Aggies the ball.
“I had the first-game jitters. I just took my eye off the ball for a second and fumbled it,” he said. “Second time, I just tried to make extra yards. I should have run out of bounds. I had the ball in the wrong hand, and the other guy made a great play. I’ll be looking to correct that next week.”
For emphasis he added: “I’m already looking forward to that.”