Sept. 30, 2006
By Megan Cross
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Try to get senior linebacker Chris Nielsen to talk about himself and he has little to say. But when it comes to his family, he is not at a loss of words when speaking about how much they mean to him and the fact that they are at the very top of the list of things that are important to him in life.
"I grew up in the same house that my mother grew up in," Nielsen said. "My grandparents lived next door and we would have frequent family dinners together. My grandparents have been a big influence in my life. They are like second parents to me."
For Nielsen, two of the most important aspects of his life, family and football, are intertwined. Where there is family there is presumably something related to football, and that helped play a role in Nielsen's decision to play college football. Even though he excelled in both baseball and football in high school, and was given college offers to play both, his family ties with football and his greater love for the game helped him make his decision.
Many young football players look up to professional players who inspire them and motivate them to be the best that they can be. Nielsen did not have to look beyond his family for that inspiration. His uncle, Joe DeLamielleure, was a big influence on him.
DeLamielleure spent 13 years in the National Football League, playing 185 consecutive games, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. He spent eight years with the Buffalo Bills and five with the Cleveland Browns, and was the lead blocker when Buffalo's O.J. Simpson became the first player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in 1973. DeLamielleure was named All-Pro and All-American Football Conference every year from 1975 through 1980, and was also selected to play in six Pro Bowls.
As well as Nielsen's love for the game of football, there was always that successful history of DeLamielleure to encourage him to continue playing. DeLamielleure was there as an uncle and someone for Nielsen to look to for in-depth experience and knowledge of the game.
In addition to his uncle, Nielsen's cousin Todd (DeLamielleure's son) played football at Duke. Although growing up they did not see each other that often, they made and kept a connection through football. When they saw each other they played football together and exchanged their young thoughts and dreams.
Football is still running strong through the family with Nielsen's brother Paul joining Holy Cross as a tight end for the Crusaders this year.
"This was a good opportunity for Paul," Nielsen said. "Just as I was, Paul was recruited by some Ivy Leagues, but it made sense to have him here in the same place."
Nielsen is proud of his successes over the past years at Holy Cross both in the classroom and on the field and only wishes the same for his brother.
"I want Paul to do his own thing and make his own friends," Nielsen said. "I don't want him to be in my shadow."
In the classroom, Nielsen may be an admitted bookworm, but it has paid off. Some pressure was lifted off his shoulders and he felt a sense of security when he was offered a job with General Electric in the financial management program at the completion of his senior year. Even there, Nielsen will continue his connection with football and Holy Cross, with at least four former Crusader football players also working for the company.
Throughout Nielsen's years at Holy Cross as a student-athlete, he has proved to successfully balance his school work and his football responsibilities. He was named first team Academic All-District by ESPN The Magazine last season, while being a three-time selection to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
"I manage my time and set time aside for school and football," Nielsen said. "Sometimes I have to put off social things to be the best at both."
In 2005, Nielsen was ranked second on the team with 72 tackles including 61 solo stops, a team-best eight tackles for loss and three sacks. His top game of the season came in the 13-10 upset victory over 10th-ranked Lehigh, when he totaled 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Following that contest, Nielsen was named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Sports Network, in addition to earning Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week honors and the Boston Globe Gold Helmet. So far this year, he stands fourth on the team with 16 tackles in four games, including two tackles for loss and a sack.
Although Nielsen already has a bright future lined up for him, he is not done here. In his final year as a Crusader, he aspires to lead the team to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs and be an All-Patriot League player.
"I'm quiet and relaxed on and off the field," Nielsen said. "I mind my own business and do what I have to do."
This story originally appeared in the September 30 edition of the Holy Cross Gameday program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Fordham. To order a copy of the program, click here.