Football, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU’s Aden Tagaloa-Nelson fulfilling childhood dream as a 2-sport college athlete

MORGANTOWN — From an early age, Aden Tagaloa-Nelson’s mother encouraged him to dream big.

“My mom was very big on me dreaming and accomplishing anything I wanted to dream about,” the WVU freshman said last week. “My mom was big on that, manifesting and accomplishing anything you want to.”

Tagaloa-Nelson’s mother, Teade Tagaloa, had him write down the things he dreamed about accomplishing in life.

“When I was young, my mom made me write affirmations and one of my biggest affirmations was to be a two-sport athlete in college,” he revealed. “I started that in about fifth grade.” 

Fast-forward about seven years and Tagaloa-Nelson has made that dream come true. As of Jan. 13, Tagaloa-Nelson is a member of both the WVU football and men’s basketball teams.

“It’s been a drastic change to my schedule, obviously,” Tagaloa-Nelson said. “I’m starting at 7 in the morning and I’m not getting home until 6 p.m.”

Tagaloa-Nelson came to WVU this summer on a football scholarship. He played in one game for the Mountaineers while redshirting in the fall. When football season ended, Tagaloa-Nelson reached out to WVU hoops coach Josh Eilert, whom he already had a relationship with, about joining the men’s team.

“This all came about with coach Eilert when he came to recruit my younger cousin, Jasper Johnson,” Tagaloa-Nelson explained. “We just kind of carried that relationship until I got down here for football.”

It was on that recruiting trip to Woodford County High School in Versailles, Ky. when Eilert saw Tagaloa-Nelson for the first time. Knowing he was a WVU football commit, Eilert introduced himself.

“He was a pretty good basketball player,” Eilert said. “He was a tough-minded, strong guard and he competed. He was such a nice young man and I carried on that relationship with him.”

Tagaloa-Nelson, a safety on the football team, arrived in Morgantown over the summer for practice and took time to follow up with Eilert, and even join in a few open practices with the Mountaineers.

Eilert floated the idea of Tagaloa-Nelson joining the basketball team once the football season was over and that’s exactly what the freshman did.

“After football ended I enjoyed the bowl game win for about a week and then I cleared it with (WVU football) coach (Neal) Brown,” Tagaloa-Nelson said. “He gave me the a-okay and then I told coach Eilert ‘Let’s do it.’”

Tagaloa-Nelson was officially added to the WVU men’s basketball roster on Jan. 13. Adding a football player to what was, at the time, a 6-10 team was never going to suddenly turn the Mountaineers into contenders, but it did complete the dream Tagaloa-Nelson had been holding onto all these years.

“It’s crazy that it’s happening now,” he said. 

After about a month of practicing with the team, Tagaloa-Nelson saw his first playing time on Feb. 10 in the final five minutes of the Mountaineers’ 94-58 loss at Texas.

“(I was) anything past nervous, I was super-nervous,” he admitted. “Of course as much work as I’ve been putting in, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity, but when you first get into the action, especially with their starters still on the floor, it was definitely nerve-racking.”

Tagaloa-Nelson missed his only field goal attempt and committed two turnovers during his time on the floor.

As a senior in high school, Tagaloa-Nelson helped Woodford County advance to the Kentucky Sweet 16, averaging 12.7 points per game at the state tournament, but the jump to major conference college basketball is a big one.

“When I practice with the guys, they’re here for a reason, they’re really good basketball players,” he said. “Even going against them in practice sometimes seems like a bit much, but now I’m kind of relaxed.”

Growing up in basketball-crazed Kentucky, Tagaloa-Nelson always thought his main athletic accomplishments would come on the hardwood.

“That’s another thing nobody really knows, I didn’t start playing football until ninth grade,” he admitted. “I’ve always been a basketball kid.”

Tagaloa-Nelson went to Father Ryan High School for his freshman and sophomore years.

“The football coach there told me I had to come out and play football and I was against it at first,” Tagaloa-Nelson said.

It wasn’t until the team’s strength and condition coach, who also coached Tagaloa-Nelson’s AAU basketball team, said he believed Tagaloa-Nelson’s natural athleticism could make him a Power 5 college football player, that he agreed to try it.

As it turned out, Tagaloa-Nelson excelled at both sports, although football came out ahead. As a senior, Tagaloa-Nelson caught 41 passes for 743 yards and 10 touchdowns while also racking up 56 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions.

Colleges began to take notice and Tagaloa-Nelson’s recruitment took a winding route to end in Morgantown. He originally committed to play safety at Ball State, but flipped and instead committed to play receiver at Western Kentucky. Then a week before Tagaloa-Nelson was going to sign with the Hilltoppers, he met WVU defensive backs coach ShaDon Brown. 

WVU officially offered Tagaloa-Nelson on national signing day, at which point he flipped again and signed with the Mountaineers.

Football remains Tagaloa-Nelson’s No. 1 sport and his main focus is preparing for the 2024 season next fall. However, he’ll spend the next few weeks on the hardwood, helping out the Mountaineers in any way he can.

“He’s just a high-character kid and enjoys competing every day,” Eilert said. “We’re really happy to have Aden in whatever capacity that may be.”

And if Tagaloa-Nelson ever had dreams of being a three-sport athlete, he might be knocking on the door of WVU men’s soccer coach Dan Stratford next.

“Soccer was my third sport,” Tagaloa-Nelson said with a smile, “but coach Neal probably won’t go for that.”

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