When he was a student at Iowa, Anthony Nelson (BBA18)’s career plan was an accounting degree from Tippie, passing the CPA exam, and getting a job at a Big Four firm.
Instead, he won a Super Bowl.
Mind you, he’s not disappointed by this unexpected career turn. A linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now entering his fourth season, he says the NFL has been a thrill, and the ring he won from the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Kansas City Chiefs is something to cherish. (He keeps it in a safe deposit box so nothing can happen to it).
He’s played an increasingly important role in the team’s defense in his first three seasons and is expected to play a significant role in his fourth.
Nelson said he was well-prepared for the rigors of the NFL by his three-years of experience as a linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and by his experiences in his Tippie classes.
Accounting and playing linebacker have certain similarities, it turns out. The people who succeed at both are analytical, plan-ahead types who know their circumstance and prepare for all contingencies.
“I’m an accounting type—pretty detailed and focused,” he said. “I compartmentalize things, I can look at pass coverages and stunts and blitz packages and understand they’re separate and also a part of something—which is a big part of accounting.”
A strong work ethic also helps. He learned from the academic rigor of the department, the high expectations the faculty set for the students and their demand for excellence. He said those expectations prepared him to work with Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history who’s famous for his ferocious work ethic and his demand for excellence from everyone who plays with him.
“He carries the same kind of high expectations and demands of us that the professors in Tippie have for their students,” he said. The class he remembers most is managerial accounting, taught by Lisa Dutchik.
“We were taught how to take all the theory we’d been learning and apply it to real life situations, and she made it engaging and interesting,” he said.
A native of Urbandale, Iowa, Nelson graduated from Waukee High School and came to Iowa in 2016. The choice was never really in doubt. His father, Jeff Nelson (BS92), a mathematics graduate, played for Coach Hayden Fry as a defensive lineman from 1990 to 1992, including the 1991 Rose Bowl team. His mother Christy (BBA94) is also a Tippie alumna.
“Playing at Iowa was my main dream,” he said. “We were a Hawkeye family, and I’ve rooted for the Hawkeyes as long as I can remember. We had Hawkeye stuff all around the house.”
Nelson even married a Hawkeye in 2021. Jordyn (Steinkritz) Nelson (BBA18) is also a Tippie graduate and a current member of the college’s Young Alumni Board.
But it was more than just Hawkeye football that attracted him to Iowa. With the NFL not yet on his radar and the Big Four his goal, academics were as important as football.
“I knew I wanted to major in business and that Tippie was a great school that would provide me with so many opportunities, so that was an easy decision,” he said.
But after his second season with the Hawkeyes, he started hearing draft buzz, and then Coach Kirk Ferentz called him into his office and told him that scouts and agents were looking at him. He told Nelson that if he ever needed any advice or someone to bounce ideas off of, he was there to help.
“That’s when I realized the NFL was a real possibility,” he said.
So he set aside his Big Four dreams for now and went pro. He was picked by the Buccaneers in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL draft, after recording 119 total tackles and 23 sacks as a Hawkeye. He also earned an accounting degree in just three years, is on his way to a master’s degree in finance from Tippie, and made the Academic All-Big Ten team twice, learning time management skills to keep his GPA up.
“Take an extra class and carve out a few minutes here or there to get ahead a chapter,” he said.
Do that and you never know where you’ll end up. Though for most of us, probably not in the Super Bowl.
Photos courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.