As a high-school senior, you were called out on national TV by Regis Philbin, a Notre Dame alum who didn't appreciate your decision to de-commit from the Fighting Irish in favor of Florida. It happened on "Live! With Regis & Kelly." What was that like?
DN: He looked into the camera and said, 'Big mistake for you, kid.' They were excited for Charlie Weis coming in. I committed to Tyrone Willingham, and he got fired and they brought in Charlie. I was the first one to leave Charlie and go somewhere else. My mom still has that tape, it's recorded on a VHS. My mom loves Regis Philbin, so the fact that he mentioned my name on national TV was really cool for her. To be an 18-year-old kid and having a nationally known name mention me, even if he was bashing me for making the wrong decision, it was pretty cool. Looking back, I think I made the right decision.
You grew up in the Dallas area, dated a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and got a chance to experience a storybook moment in your hometown. Tell me about it.
DN: When I was in Buffalo and scored a touchdown against the Cowboys, I ran the ball over and handed it to her (Kelsi Reich). A lot of people think I proposed to her. They say, 'You're the guy who proposed to his girlfriend.' I'm like, 'No, that was the guy from Boise State.' I just gave her the football, gave her a hug and walked away. We were dating, that was my girlfriend. I'm from Dallas. I had 80 family members in the stands. It's so random that you're playing the team your girlfriend cheers for in your hometown. I happened to score a touchdown, so all the stars aligned.
You played with Tim Tebow at Florida. What's your favorite Tebow story?
DN: My favorite story was, day of the national championship (January, 2009). We had three or four hours off, a time when guys get their minds right, go over the game plan, last-minute preparations at the hotel. I remember receiving a text message from him: 'Hey, can you come to my room?' When the starting quarterbacks calls you to come to his room four hours before the national championship, you get a little alarmed. What's going on? What's happening?
I walked into his room and there were five other guys and our team chaplain sitting there. He was sitting on his bed, and he opens the book of Matthew from the Bible and reads this verse: 'Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' Before the biggest game of our lives, he was humbling himself before us. He was saying, 'I have so much pressure on me, so much attention, so much expected of me, but after reading this verse, I want to humble myself in front of my peers. What happens tonight, let's just go out and have fun. Give whatever we have and enjoy the moment.'
A lot of times, guys put out this image that they have it all figured out and have all the answers. For him to say that and do that at that time, it truly meant something. A lot of us grew closer to him and connected on a deeper level. It was truly powerful. (Note: Florida defeated Oklahoma, with Nelson scoring on Tebow's famous jump-pass.)
You and your brothers, Patrick and Daniel, are raising money to build a residential village for orphans in Haiti. How did you get involved in that?
DN: About three years ago, I was on a mission trip to Haiti. It was my first time there. I've always loved kids. I'm the oldest of eight. I've always been surrounded by kids, and I knew I'd do something with kids when I got older, I just didn't know what. I spent a weekend at an orphanage and met a couple kids whose mother and father passed away in the earthquake. They're kids who don't have anything to call their own, except for a pair of clothes and some shoes, but they still have so much hope for life. I came back and my life was changed by those kids, by their hope and perspective on life.
I called two of my brothers and asked if they'd go back with me. We went back and stayed for a week. Our lives radically changed because of those kids. I was playing in the NFL, but these kids didn't care who I was, they didn't care what I did, they didn't care what I was bringing them, material wise. All they wanted was love and attention, and for me to hold them and play soccer with them. It rocked my world. My brothers and I made it our mission to provide for these kids any way we can, so we started this non-profit organization back in January.