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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
On Sunday, former Gahr High and University of Washington standout wide receiver Josh Perkins and his Atlanta Falcons will be competing for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Back on Jan. 7, his high school and college teammate, Dwayne Washington and the rest of the Detroit Lions lost in a National Football Conference wild card game to Seattle.
While those two have enjoyed success during their rookie seasons in the National Football League, it’s another pair of Gahr standout players, both of whom had a hand in where Perkins and Washington are today, that never materialized on the field beyond college.
Brothers Corey, a 2008 graduate and Casey Nielsen who graduated in 2009, put Gahr on the California high school map for a brief period of time with their passing displays. They were among the best high school quarterbacks this state has seen and racked up some of the top yardage and touchdown numbers in state history, as well as California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section history. But a series of events derailed their plans to possibly play in the NFL.
Corey Nielsen was offered a scholarship to play at the University of Hawai’i and after redshirting his freshman year, appeared in one game the next season. After a coaching change on the islands and knowing that he wouldn’t get the playing time he thought he would get, Corey eventually transferred to St. Francis University in Pennsylvania.
“Hawai’i was my dream school,” Corey said. “My mom was there, so I have a lot of family there and I’ve been there a lot of times. So it already felt like home. I get shipped out to Pennsylvania and it’s a complete 180. Blue skies and sandy beaches [were] a thing of the past. Gray skies and snow for the first time ever for longer than three days was completely different.”
Since his college days, Corey, who passed for 8,236 yards and threw 73 touchdowns in his high school career, has interned with the Jordan Brand and played for the Nike Football Society, a flag football league that Nike had set up in Los Angeles.
His marketing degree from St. Francis University has helped him land a job at Stance Socks, where he has been doing licensing for the past year working on NBA, MLB and college licensing deals.
As much as he wanted to finish his college career on the islands, Corey admitted he didn’t have aspirations of playing in the NFL, but just wanted to play to see where it took him.
“I definitely woke up every morning to [ask] ‘what am I doing here’,” Corey wondered. “But at the end of the day, it was football. I just wanted to play football. That is what drove me to keep going.”
Casey Nielson threw for 4,406 yards and 41 touchdowns his senior season at Gahr and those numbers still stand as tops in school history. In addition, his yardage numbers were third best in state history. In fact, when Casey was on the junior varsity team during his junior season, his favorite target, and leading wide receiver, was Perkins. He was then offered a scholarship to play at Graceland University, a small NAIA school in Iowa. Two weeks before Casey was supposed to report to camp, the head coach got fired. Casey still went to training camp but left because it wasn’t a good fit. He decided to take the fall semester of 2009 off.
Casey eventually found Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO, another NAIA school that was transitioning to Division II, which had interest in him. He played there for two years before transferring to Long Beach City College. However, a shoulder injury limited his playing time to just half a season. He tried to get back into playing but didn’t get any offers and finished up at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“It’s kind of crazy but at the end of the day, all that really mattered was I wanted to play for someone who was going to give me a shot,” Casey said.
Casey would intern at Deuce Brand before working for a public relations firm called Carat. He now works at Adidas in Portland as Social Media Manager for all of the U.S. Football.
According to Jon Nielsen, Casey and Corey’s uncle and former Gahr offensive coordinator, the goal was not to get them into the NFL when they were at Gahr. The goal was to get them a college scholarship. The only way to do that was for them to put up the numbers they did.
“They just couldn’t be okay,” Jon Nielsen said. “For the rest of their lives, they can look back in the California state record books and that’s me. Casey’s record of yards per game probably will stand long past I’m dead, of 400.6 yards. No one has even come close to that.”
“I think it’s important to say that we’re not the prototypical quarterback size-wise,” Corey said. “We’re both sub six-foot, so we don’t pass the eye test immediately. Our numbers, what we did on the field, had to speak for themselves.”