Growing up together playing the quarterback position for the Pembroke Pines Optimist League, cousins Kalyn “Kato” Nelson and Stanford Samuels III never thought they’d end up on the same high school team.
That changed this past January when Nelson, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in South Florida, transferred to Flanagan, where Samuels had already transitioned into one of the state’s elite cornerbacks.
“We had never really talked about it since we both played the same position, but it’s great having someone you can trust on and off the field there with you,” Samuels said.
Their presence together proved vital after Nelson was sidelined for the early part of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Samuels held the fort long enough at quarterback until Nelson returned.
Since the fourth week of the season, the two have been crucial components on a Falcons team that will make its state championship game debut 7 p.m. Saturday in the Citrus Bowl against Kissimmee Osceola.
“It was kind of frustrating but I couldn’t look at it like that,” Nelson said. “I worked on myself coming back from the injury and focused on keeping these guys up when I was out. I wanted to help Stanford while he was in at quarterback as much as I could.”
Nelson, a 6-1, 205-pound senior and Akron University commitment, has gotten sharper and sharper since returning to his starting role in the fourth game of the season. He’s thrown for 1,404 yards and 16 touchdowns and completed 101 passes on 164 attempts with only two interceptions.
Nelson’s mobility has also made him Flanagan’s leading rusher going into the state final, with 354 yards on 72 attempts and five rushing touchdowns.
Nelson’s first name, Kalyn is listed on the Flanagan roster, although most people refer to him by the name Kato. It’s a nickname that stemmed from his childhood and a close relationship he had with his grandfather, Rudolph Nelson, who passed away in 2011.
“He used to call me Kato because he couldn’t pronounce my real name right when I was a kid,” Nelson said. “Everybody started calling me Kato since then. I like it because it’s my way of honoring him.”
Nelson became one of the most versatile and accurate passers in South Florida over the two seasons prior to his arrival at Flanagan. He passed for a combined 4,765 yards, 57 touchdowns and only seven interceptions his sophomore and junior seasons at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah.
Nelson transferred to Champagnat his sophomore season after throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman backup quarterback at McArthur High. Nelson led Champagnat to the Class 2A state championship as a sophomore.
“Kato is the key to the car that drives this machine,” Flanagan coach Devin Bush said. “When he’s on fire, he’s so fun to watch. The guys rally around him and it was hard when he wasn’t here early in the season.”
Nelson sustained his injury during a 7-on-7 tournament in the summer and missed the first three games of the season.
Samuels (6-2, 180 pounds), who switched to cornerback as a freshman and has already received over 35 FBS school offers for his proficiency at the position, was tabbed as Flanagan’s starting quarterback.
Samuels threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But his third start ended with a shocking 13-12 loss to South Plantation that put Flanagan in a must-win situation for the rest of its district schedule.
“At times, it got frustrating because getting back under center having to make all calls and make all the reads again after not playing quarterback for a long time was hard,” Samuels said. “Kato he helped me out a lot. He pretty much knew the offense already so he helped me through the whole process.”
Nelson returned the following week in the second half of Flanagan’s 42-0 win over Western.
His first play was an improvised 50-yard run. He threw an interception in that game. He didn’t throw another until the first quarter of last week’s state semifinal against Columbus.
In the meantime, his quick accuracy and chemistry with Flanagan’s talented receivers improved and Flanagan became a more balanced team that only lost once over its next 10 games.
“We just had to get the chemistry with Kato down,” Flanagan senior Dredrick Snelson said. “It took a few games, but once we did, then we got things going and everything started clicking.”
Football state finals
Where: The Citrus Bowl, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Admission: $12 per session; Parking: $10.
Last week’s state champions: Class 4A — Miami Booker T. Washington; 3A — Jacksonville Trinity Christian; 2A — Jacksonville University Christian; 1A — Trenton.
Friday’s schedule: Class 5A — Orlando Bishop Moore (13-1) vs. Crawfordville Wakulla (13-1), 1:07; Class 7A — St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) vs. Viera (10-4), 7:07.
Saturday’s schedule: Class 6A — Miami Central (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood (14-0), 1:07; Class 8A — Flanagan (11-2) vs. Kissimmee Osceola (13-1), 7:07.
At a glance
KISSIMMEE OSCEOLA (13-1) VS. FLANAGAN (11-2)
Coaches: FL — Devin Bush (3rd year, 33-5); OSC — Doug Nichols (9th year, 82-29).
State experience: FL — First state appearance; OSC — 1-3 (Won state title in 1998).
Road to state: FL — d. Piper 39-0; Deerfield Beach 17-0; Delray Beach Atlantic 35-0; Columbus 30-17; OSC — d. Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast 41-8; Vero Beach 42-35; Orlando Dr. Phillips 20-19; Winter Garden West Orange 35-14.
Probable offensive starters: FL — LT Isaian Murray, 6-4, 240, Sr.; LG Marcus Etienne, 6-0, 260, Jr.; C Jamar Lambert, 6-4, 350, Jr.; RG Natrone Ray, 5-10, 215, Sr.; RT Kassy Desir, 6-4, 290, Sr.; X Dredrick Snelson, 5-10, 205, Sr.; H Isaiah Collins, 5-9, 165, Sr.; QB Kato Nelson, 6-1, 205, Sr.; RB Tyler Goetz, 6-0, 210, Sr.; Y Clevan Thomas, 5-10, 205, Sr.; Z Jahcour Pearson, 5-9, 180, Sr.; K Angel Trujillo, 6-0, 180, Sr.; OSC — TE Jamari Watson, 6-1, 210, Sr.; LT Roger Bell, 6-0, 250, Jr.; LG Michael Marriot, 6-0, 265, Sr.; C Austin Upleger, 6-1, 285, Sr.; RG Andres Osorio, 6-0, 260, Sr.; RT Nick Parsons, 6-2, 255, Jr.; WR Devuntaye Montgomery, 6-0, 155, Jr.; QB Isaiah Wilson, 5-10, 175, Sr.; WB Marcus Edwards, 5-9, 165, Sr.; FB Laderrien Wilson, 5-10, 210, Sr.; WB Nazayah Brown, 5-10, 180, Sr.; K Luis Martinez, 5-10, 150, Jr.
Probable defensive starters: FL — RE Fabian Gordon, 6-0, 208, Sr.; NT Dennis Jackson, 5-11, 265, Sr.; LE Jordan Eubanks, 6-0, 175, Sr.; NB Dwayne Boyles, 6-1, 170, So.; MLB Devin Bush, Jr., 6-0, 230, Sr.; MLB Devin Gil, 6-1, 215, Sr.; SB Nikholu Jaghai, 5-11, 185, Sr.; CB Stanford Samuels III, 6-2, 180, Jr.; CB Rocco Marucci, 6-0, 170, Sr.; SS Josh Metellus, 6-0, 198, Sr.; FS-P Jahvari Bourdeau, 5-10, 175, Sr.; OSC — LE TJ Kelly, 6-0, 255, Sr.; LT Jordan Redmond, 6-2, 270, So.; RT Devin Lebron, 5-10, 205, Sr.; RE Dion Bergan, 6-1, 220, So.; LB Trey Shine, 5-9, 170, So.; LB Dwight Pinellas, 5-11, 190, Jr.; LB Conner Parker, 5-10, 175, So.; DB Carlos Becker, 6-2, 180, Sr.; DB Marcus Jackson, 5-11, 175, Jr.; DB Cordai Dennis, 5-11, 165, Sr.; DB Devon Clarke, 6-2, 185, Sr.; P Braxton Jones, 5-8, 150, So.