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Central's Ron Nelson was a Master at Developing Students into Prospects

The following is an article written by Bill Plott for celebrating this year's inductees into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. Coach Nelson is one of five inductees with a background in football that will be honored March 18th in Montgomery.


     MONTGOMERY – Central-Phenix City High School coach Ron Nelson was masterful at developing young student-athletes into prospects. In fact, 96 of his baseball players went on to receive college scholarships, and 66 of his football players received college football scholarships during his tenure.    

Nelson’s contributions to high school athletics have not gone unnoticed. He will be joining 11 others March 18 who will be inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2024 at the 34th annual Hall of Fame Induction Banquet to be held at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Spa Convention Center.    

Those individuals selected alongside Nelson are: football coaches Phillip Lolley, Perry Swindall and Rick Rhoades;  football and track coach Eddie Brundidge; basketball coaches Chucky Miller and Thomas “Mike” Boyd; wrestling coach Richard “Dickey” Wright; softball and baseball coach Christopher Goodman; AHSAA administrator Kimberly Vickers;  and selected from the “Old-Timers’ Division were coach/administrators Frank “Swede” Kendall and Cornell “C.T.” Torrence.    

Nelson grew up in Millbrook, graduated from Stanhope Elmore High School in 1975 and from Auburn University in 1979. He also holds a master’s degree. His entire coaching career was spent in Phenix City, first at South Girard Junior High and then at Central High School. He was head baseball coach from 1983-2006, head football coach from 1998-2009, and assistant athletic director from 2009-19.    

In 24 seasons as baseball coach, he compiled a record of 513-182, the most wins in Central High School history, and had a winning percentage of .738. He never had a losing season during that time and 20 of his 24 teams made the state playoffs. Thirteen teams made it into the Elite 8 round and five to the Final Four. His 1994 and 1996 teams were state runners-up.  He had 16 Area championship teams, 16 teams that won 20 or more games, seven that won 25 or more games, and the 2004 team finished 31-5.    

Six of his baseball players were selected in the Major League Draft. One of them, Bryan Hebson, reached the major leagues with the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals).

In football, he was Central High’s head coach for 12 years, compiling a record of 92-42, which ranks second all-time in Red Devils’ history behind AHSAA Hall of Famer Wayne Trawick, who won 186 of his 286 prep coaching victories at Central. Nelson served as offensive coordinator under Coach Trawick when the 1993 team won the state championship. Ten of Nelson’s teams were in the state playoffs with two advancing to the third round and four to the second round.    

Nelson had 22 all-state players including one each on the Super 12 and Super All-State selections. Twelve of his players were selected for Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Classic and 15 for the AHSAA’s annual North-South All-Star Game. Nelson coached in the 2003 Alabama-Mississippi game and coached the South team in the 2005 AHSAA North-South game.

His football alumni included 66 players who received college football scholarships and five who went to careers in the National Football League. Among them were Triandos Luke, Denver; Cordaro Howard, Buffalo and Baltimore; Orwin Smith, Green Bay;  Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, and Kansas City; and J.D. Mckissic, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit, and Washington.    

After he retired from coaching, Nelson remained a vital part of the Central High administration. “He continued to lead at CHS by moving into the assistant athletic director’s position,” said Athletic Director Matt Bell. “He worked with many teams with their eligibility and made sure students were on the right track academically. Coach Nelson was the NCAA clearinghouse liaison also. He worked with students to get them into the clearinghouse and to make sure that they were in the right classes to become eligible. The same ability that Coach Nelson showed on the playing field to get the most out of his players, he did the same in his role as assistant AD.”    

Bell said Nelson’s success on the field was overshadowed only by his impact with his players off the field. “For all of the success that Coach Nelson experienced on the field and in the athletic department, his greatest success can be measured today by the lives that he impacted,” said Bell. “There are so many success stories that Coach Nelson played a part in right here in Phenix City. There are so many that have left and are enjoying successful lives outside of Phenix City also. Coach Nelson directly impacted and helped shape who I am today by being my coach, boss, mentor, and friend. I played both football and baseball for Coach, and he also hired me out of college as an assistant coach in football and baseball.    

“The things that he taught me are invaluable as an educator and as a person….To play football or baseball in Phenix City was as big of a dream for kids as it was to play for Alabama or Auburn. Coach Nelson was a huge part of creating that dream for the kids here.”      

Nelson was elected to the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2023. The city baseball field in Phenix City, which is used by Central High School, was renamed in 2014 to include his name. It is now Darnell-Nelson Field. His jersey number (No. 1) was retired and a banner in the outfield commemorates the honor.


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