Raymond Nelson stepped out of his brother's huge shadow last fall to help Modesto Christian High soar to a state small schools football championship.
On Wednesday he reinforced what he's claimed all along — that being known as Reeves Nelson's little brother is not so bad — by making a verbal commitment to play football at UCLA, where his brother will be a sophomore on the basketball team this winter.
Raymond Nelson will be joining the Bruins and head coach Rick Neuheisel as a tight end for the fall 2011 season, after he plays one more season as a 6-foot, 5-inch, 240-pound never-come-off-the-field athlete for the Crusaders.
Nelson will play tight end, defensive end, some nose guard and a little linebacker for MC, which opens its season with a challenging jump-in-levels game at Oakdale. He also plans to return to the basketball court this winter after not playing basketball as a junior.
"Reeves already being at UCLA wasn't really a factor in my decision," Raymond Nelson said. "I fully expect him to go to the pros next year, so he might not even be there when I get there. I know him and I completely believe in his abilities, so maybe I'll go there and fill his spot at UCLA."
He meant at the school, not in the basketball program.
Nelson caught 32 passes for 687 yards and 11 touchdowns for Modesto Christian last season. But it was his hands and sheer athleticism, including a 4.65-second 40-yard-dash time, that made him a three-star recruit in most scout's eyes.
He said he received offers from nearly every Division I school on the West Coast, including eight in the Pac-10, but his final decision came down to a choice between UCLA and Oregon.
"UCLA is closer to home and it's in a great area," he said. "I loved it down there. The people, the players, the area."
His mother, Sheila Nelson, said she thought her son was leaning toward Oregon until he made his decision.
"I was thinking Raymond was going to be a Duck," she said. "He visited UCLA and then we sat down and went over the pros and cons of both schools.
"Raymond took a few weeks and didn't talk to either school during that time. Then, I walked into the room and he told me he committed to UCLA."
She added that having a big brother already on campus was not a significant factor in her younger son's decision. Reeves Nelson averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds as a UCLA freshman.
"I don't think it was a factor at all," she said. "It just really had to be what was right for Raymond. There's no guarantee Reeves will even be there next year, so he couldn't be making his decision based on where Reeves was. It's all about what Raymond wanted."
After just a few weeks at UCLA, Reeves Nelson went arm-first into becoming one of college basketball's most decorated players, at least in tattoo terms. Is Raymond planning to follow his brother into the Westwood ink parlors?
"He's pretty close to his brother but he won't get tatted up like that," Shiela Nelson said. "I do expect that the brothers will get some kind of common tat."
Raymond Nelson laughed at the question.
"Wait until you see Reeves now," Raymond said. "It will surprise everybody because he has a whole sleeve-full now. I don't think I'll have many, but I might get one with my mom and my sister's name."
Raymond Nelson said the best part about making his decision was being done with the pressure of recruiting before starting his senior year of high school. He will sign his national letter of intent on Feb. 2, 2011.
"It was fun being wanted by everybody on the West Coast," he said. "But it's also a relief not to have to talk to coaches every day."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.