Randy Nelson used his athletic skills to become a Falkville legend

By David Elwell
For the Enquirer

Randy Nelson says that when it came to shooting the basketball, he was not bashful.

“I loved to shoot, and I shot it a lot,” Nelson said. “I had a great coach named Jack Tate, who gave me the green light. He said if I had a good shot to let it go, and I let it go a lot.”

The green light worked well for Nelson and his Falkville Blue Devils in the 1970s. He averaged over 20 points in each of three seasons on the varsity. Nelson finished his high school career with 1,650 points. The Blue Devils broke the 20-win mark in Nelson’s senior season.

Nelson, 68, will be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 4 at the Priceville Event Center.

“It’s a great honor for me, but I look at it as a great honor for all of us that played together at Falkville,” Nelson said. “It’s really about the people in Falkville who supported us. It’s a special place.”

Nelson graduated from Falkville in 1974. In those days, the Blue Devils played home games in what they called “The Barn.”

“It was a small gym and reminded me of Duke because it seemed like the fans were sitting on top of you,” Nelson said. “I loved playing in ‘The Barn,’ but when we played away games in the bigger gyms we had to adjust.

“I would have liked to have played with a 3-point line. My favorite spot to shoot from was in the corner. I don’t know if ‘The Barn’ had enough room in the corner to shoot a 3.”

Nelson’s varsity career fell during an amazing time for basketball talent in Morgan County. Following his senior season, he was selected to The Daily’s All-Morgan County team along with West Morgan’s Larry Tucker, Austin’s Marvin Sales and Murphy Brown, Decatur’s Andy Cole and Bennie Thompson, Brewer’s Larry Chatman, and Hartselle’s Lonnie Lemmond.

“Playing teams in Morgan County was tough. You had to be a little bit better than your best just to get a win,” Nelson said. “We could go 12-0 vs. teams from Cullman County, but it was a different story when it came to success against the other Morgan County schools.”

“The Barn” was red-hot for Nelson on one special night in his sophomore season when he scored a career-high 41 points in a win over Cullman.

“I don’t think I slept at all that night,” Nelson said.

Stopping Nelson was just about impossible.

“He was what you call a pure shooter,” West Morgan’s Larry Tucker said. “He had a beautiful shot. It would remind you of Pistol Pete (Maravich at LSU). When Nelson crossed half-court, he was in a shooting range.

“If there had been a 3-point line in those days, he would have averaged 28 or 30 points a game. The only way to beat Falkville was to limit what the other four players could score because there was no defense to stop Randy Nelson.”

Tucker, who was inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame in 2022 and Nelson later became teammates in college at Athens State.

Nelson developed his shooting touch through long hours of individual work and competing with his friends.

“It seemed like every Sunday afternoon we ended up at Randy’s house,” teammate Mike Tarpley said. “His house was the only one with a goal on the driveway.”

Another way to gain an advantage was by making the best out of a bad situation. Nelson broke his right arm when he was in the eighth grade.

“He learned how to play the game left-handed and it paid off,” Tarpley said. “He could dribble and pass with either hand. He was good with the no-look pass. I experienced a few of those when I wasn’t looking.”

Nelson’s father was Falkville principal E.L. Nelson. That connection helped make the school’s gym accessible. His dad’s brother is Rolland “Brownie” Nelson, who starred at Auburn in the 1950s and later coached at Athens High. The Eva native was inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

“Both my mom and dad came from big families that loved to play ball,” Randy Nelson said. “Brownie was a big part of my development. I learned the no-look pass from my dad and how to shoot from Brownie.

“I was blessed to be a pretty good shooter, but I really enjoyed dishing out assists as much as scoring points. Today, kids don’t know how to make a pass. It’s all shoot.”

In his senior season, Nelson averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Nelson’s athletic talent in high school was not limited to just the basketball court. He was an All-Area baseball selection and was the starting quarterback on the football team. Falkville’s first trip to the playoffs came in 1972 (9-2) with Nelson at quarterback.

“The biggest obstacle for us that season was West Morgan,” Nelson said. “They beat us in the regular season (27-6) and then in the playoffs (21-6).

“West Morgan was our nemesis because they had Larry Tucker. I don’t think we ever beat them in basketball or football.”

Later Nelson and Tucker became best friends at Athens State, where they played for coaching legend Oba Belcher. Two of their teammates were future Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame inductees Gary Redus (2003) and David Ogle (2022).

After the playing days ended, Nelson went into coaching at Boaz High as an assistant coach for the same Jack Tate who coached him at Falkville. He coached there for 43 years in a variety of sports that included basketball, football, baseball, golf and cross-country.

“Boaz has been a great place for my family. We love it there,” Nelson said. “My faith has always been an important part of my life. Coaching has given me a great platform to share my faith.”

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