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Friday, September 29, 2023

Mistaken identity earns Nelson celebrity treatment

Most people know David Nelson as a wide receiver stuck in the logjam of playmakers on the UF depth chart.

At least a few hundred others know Nelson as someone entirely different - Chris Leak.

"Not on purpose, but I had a whole cruise ship believing that I was Chris Leak one time," he said.

Soon after the Gators won last year's national championship, the redshirt sophomore spent a few days parading as the team's quarterback while on a spring-break cruise to the Bahamas.

"It wasn't something that I asked for," he said. "There was a group that I was with, and they knew that people think I'm Chris Leak a lot."

Early in the cruise, Nelson's resemblance to UF's all-time leading passer turned from a quiet joke to a public spectacle.

Nelson - dressed in Gators apparel and wearing his national title ring - and his friends were in the ship's dining hall when a DJ turned a would-be relaxing evening into anything but, Nelson said.

"[The DJ] made a huge announcement to the cruise ship saying, 'We have the national champion MVP Chris Leak on board,'" Nelson said. "A spotlight just found me. I was sitting at my table and had no idea what was going on. Everyone just gave a standing ovation.

"At this point I can't be like, 'No, I'm not,' so I just stood up and waved and sat back down."

Nelson spent the next few days awkwardly posing as Leak while fellow passengers hounded him.

"People would come up wanting autographs," he said. "With little kids, I didn't know whether to say I'm not Chris Leak and embarrass the kid, or just sign it and tell Chris later."

Nelson said he didn't turn down autograph seekers. He just scribbled away when asked to sign and told Leak about the incident afterward.

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"He laughs about it - he loves it," Nelson said. "Hopefully one day someone will come up to him and ask if he's David Nelson, but I don't think so. I think it's funny because he's like [5-foot-10] and I'm [6-foot-5]. Obviously people who think I'm Chris Leak don't know a lot about football."

Nelson's moment of celebrity offered him a few unique opportunities.

"I got to go meet the captain of the ship, and I had a lot of people offer to get me things or buy me things," he said. "I guess I was just the most popular person on the ship.

"Everywhere I went, people were taking pictures of me or shaking my hand and telling me good job on the season."

Not everyone believed Nelson was Leak. Nelson said several UF students approached him on the matter, prompting him to put an end to the rumor by having the DJ make another announcement to the ship.

"I wasn't trying to act like I was Chris Leak by any means, but there was just so much going on that I was overwhelmed by it, and I didn't know what to do," he said.

Those days may have been the peak of Nelson's fame so far, but he is beginning to make a name for himself on the field as well.

Due to injuries to fellow wideouts Andre Caldwell and Riley Cooper, Nelson started last weekend's game against Mississippi, a career-first.

Nelson didn't make a big impact on the stat sheet with one catch for 5 yards, but he did throw a crucial block on a 23-yard catch-and-run by Percy Harvin.

The cruise ship experience may have seemed wild at the time, but Nelson can only imagine what it would have been like if he were mistaken for current starting quarterback Tim Tebow.

"I may have been able to drive the boat," he said. "They may have thrown the captain off and let me drive it."

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