SportStars Magazine

2017 Art Savage Athlete of the Year Award: Big Bear

There’s Nothing Small About Darren Nelson — That Includes The Lasting Impact He’ll Leave As A Multi-Sport Star For The Granite Bay Grizzlies •

  EDITOR’S NOTE: The Art Savage Award is part of the SportStars All-City Team Awards presented in partnership with the Sacramento River Cats. It is presented to the top male athlete of the school year. 

Size, speed, and strength cannot be taught, but there is much more to a great athlete than just raw talent and measurables.

Granite Bay High senior Darren Nelson took advantage of his 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame to excel in both basketball and baseball, but intangibles like competitiveness, desire and work ethic propelled him to be a great student-athlete — and the recipient of the Art Savage Award, given to the area’s top male athlete.

“It’s in there,” Grizzlies longtime baseball coach Pat Esposito said of his ace’s talent and skills. “He is starting to harness it, and can realize more of his potential at the next level. He just has to be diligent and make it a priority in his life to become as good as he can be.”

What Nelson is now is one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s, and perhaps one of Northern California’s, top pitching prospects. After an opening-round victory in the SJS Division I playoffs, he improved to 8-0 in 2017 with a 1.87 ERA to go along with a .419 batting average, 4 home runs and 20 RBI. That has all come after helping Granite Bay advance to the section Division I basketball semifinals and the CIF Northern Regional tournament this winter.

Nelson rises up to contest a shot in a 2015-16 season game at Folsom High. (James K. Leash photo)

Nelson is a four-year varsity basketball player and three-year varsity baseball star, and many college recruiters and scouts believe he will succeed at the next level. That may be at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo — where he has signed to play — or in professional baseball, depending upon where he is selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June.

“I will be 21 years old and eligible for the draft after two years of college, but I will see what happens with the draft,” Nelson said. “If I get some great offer, I will definitely take a look at it, but I expect to wait until (2019).”

If he chooses to go to San Luis Obispo to develop his game and education, he will be continuing a family tradition. Both of his parents were Mustang student-athletes, and older sister, Taylor, who won a CIF State Volleyball Championship while at Granite Bay, is excelling as a college setter for Cal Poly.

“I’m really proud of all his hard work,” Taylor Nelson said of her younger brother. “It’s great to see all the time he’s put into athletics these past few years are paying off.”

Nelson’s family athletic legacy can be continued, and he can further the Grizzlies’ baseball legacy if he continues to hone his skills as a professional baseball player. Several former Granite Bay players, including Philadelphia Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp, are playing in the minor and major leagues. Esposito believes that Nelson has what it takes to make Granite Bay a pro baseball hotbed.

“There is a lot more in there, and he has been able to see past players succeed and talk to them when they come back to get a perspective of what it takes to be a professional baseball player,” Esposito said. “Winning games and having banners to hang is great, but it’s more satisfying for me to see our athletes play and succeed at the next level.”

With the Art Savage Award winner’s current trajectory, Esposito and the rest of the baseball world may have a lot to look forward to with Nelson.

— Jim McCue

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