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Nielsen is Cerritos’ gift that keeps on giving

on Nielsen coaches nephew Corey during a Gahr High School road game over five years ago. Corey and Casey Nielsen would graduate from Gahr setting several state passing records.

Jon Nielsen coaches nephew Corey during a Gahr High School road game over five years ago. Corey and Casey Nielsen would graduate from Gahr setting several state passing records.

By Loren Kopff

When you have lived in the same city for your entire life, you feel compelled to give back to that city what it has given to you. That’s what Jon Nielsen has been doing for the City of Cerritos for several years as it relates to the sports side of things.
A former Cerritos High quarterback and current offensive coordinator for Gahr’s football team, Nielsen could very well be the busiest person in the city who doesn’t work directly for the city or sits on the city council board. What he has done for the past decade or so, especially in the coaching realm, shouldn’t go without notice. But for those who aren’t in Nielsen’s immediate circle of acquaintances, you might think he is almost invisible, or you might wonder who he really is.
“The busiest person that doesn’t exist,” Nielsen chuckled. “I think I’m one of the only people who grew up playing all of the different sports throughout the city when I was young with the different organizations like the Frontier Baseball all the way through Cerritos High School. Then I came back and helped them out in their glory years when [former head coach] Kurt Bruich was there, and then obviously taking my nephews to Gahr. I never left helping Cerritos sports. Some of [them] gave so much to me, so I feel I should give it back”
Nielsen’s coaching resume is three pages long but has enough information to be six pages long. He played football for two universities and two other colleges, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Claremont McKenna College. Then he spent some time with the Oakland Raiders, New York Cityhawks of the Arena Football League, Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, New Jersey Red Dogs of the AFL and Arkansas Twisters of the AFL 2, the minor league version of the AFL, Birmingham Thunderbolts of the Xtreme Football League and back with the Argonauts.
But it’s what Nielsen has done during and after his playing days that is making people pay attention to him. Nielsen has been involved in scouting and coaching hundreds of players, including those in his immediate family, and getting many Gahr football players scholarships. Nielsen said his goal was never to be a coach but sometimes in life, things fall into place when you least expect it.
“My dad coached a lot, so I played everything,” Nielsen said. “I was the quarterback; I had to play center one year. The memories I have, I remember them like it was yesterday. Then with baseball, I remember I was a catcher because I was a bigger kid. One of our pitchers got hurt, so my coach asked if I could pitch. I went out there and struck out nine straight.
“Once you coach a certain amount of years, it’s kind of easy to flip it and coach other things,” he later added. “Throughout the years, you gain the knowledge and intricacies of the game.”
In 2001 when he was making his second stint with Toronto, Nielsen made a promise to coach his nephews Corey and Casey, both former Gahr standouts who rewrote the high school state record book in passing. The promise came right after Corey, who was in the third grade at the time, wrote him a note basically pleading for his uncle not to go back north of the border.
It’s a good thing Nielsen stuck with his promise because by the time his nephews got to Gahr, people were talking about them. When it was all said and done, Corey was the second ranked passer in the nation in 2007 and tops in the state with 4,363 yards. The next season, Corey was fourth in the state and earned a scholarship to play at the University of Hawai’i. In 2009, Casey led the state with a 400.5 yards per game average and was the top quarterback in the state. He got a scholarship to play at Lindenwood University.
“I had no idea that they were going to become the players they became,” Nielsen said. “Was it beyond my expectations? Yes. But I had a plan from the early start to work with them and train them the best way I knew how.”
In fact Nielsen, who was recognized by the city during the 50th anniversary festivities for being a Cerritos athlete, has been instrumental in getting scholarships for 16 Gahr players in the past six or seven years. From 2007-2011, Gahr has been anywhere from first to fourth in the state for high school passing offense in regular season games. And to think that Nielsen, who once took the LSAT, was accepted to three different law schools. Now, he calls himself a life changer.
“For me, football and athletics have been such a part of my life,” Nielsen said. “It was always organized. So when I was playing a getting paid for it, I was always looking to do something else. I wanted to be involved in other aspects than just playing. I tried to expand [other areas]. I paid attention to how people were managed, the good and bad.”
For someone who graduated from Cerritos, his efforts could have easily helped and turned around the Cerritos High football program, one that has struggled this decade, instead of Gahr. Former Cerritos principal Jeff Green, who was Nielsen’s teacher and coach back in the day, put him on a panel to hire the next Cerritos head coach following the 2003 season. When Green hired someone other than who Nielsen had highly recommended, Nielsen decided to go to Gahr and high school football in the city has clearly been dominated by Gahr. Nielsen was told by then Cerritos head coach Aron Kaye that, ‘you can’t run the run and shoot in high school. You don’t have the personnel to run it’. Since 2004, Gahr has won 47 games and made two trips to the playoffs. Cerritos has won 12 games with no trips to the postseason.
“Aron Kaye changed the landscape of Cerritos football with Gahr and Cerritos the last 10 years,” Nielsen said. “When I stepped on [the Gahr] campus to coach Corey 10 years ago, we changed the whole landscape of football. They had just lost [40 straight games]. They were playing freelance [football] and the Suburban League schedule and doing okay.
“Numbers don’t lie and scholarships don’t lie,” Nielsen added. “My whole philosophy is this, and a lot of people will get mad. I could care less how many games I’ve won if I’m getting kids an opportunity to get a scholarship. To me, high school is about enhancing a kid’s chance to go to the next level. It’s not about wins and losses. We’re not at a private school. We’re not making six figures to coach. We’re not Servite or Mater Dei.”
This season, Nielsen’s other nephew, Colby, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Corey and Casey. Nielsen has already stated that Colby could be the best of the three. Then there is Nielsen’s daughter Jadyn, a current Cerritos Girls Softball Association All-Star for the 8-Under team, and son Jarret Johnson, who plays for the Cerritos International Little League. Jadyn will be entering the fourth grade and J.J. will be coming into the second grade. Both figure to be high school athletes. But will the 40-year old Nielsen, who is also in the entertainment and management business, still be at Gahr coaching them? He says that his next adventure changes day to day.
“Again, it’s relationships,” Nielsen said. “That’s life. It’s how you treat people; it’s how you interact with people. Everything comes full circle. You’re going to see the same people going up as you are going down.”