With each passing day, Anders Nelson is moving closer towards his big moment. The out volleyball coach signed on with Vanderbilt University in December 2022 to resurrect the school’s defunct program, and is laying out his vision for their first game back next August.

The first batch of athletes are coming to campus this summer, which will start the unofficial clock. The situation would be an incredible opportunity for any coach: the chance to rebuild a storied program from scratch is akin to some sort of coaching fantasy camp.

But the moment is especially sweet for Nelson, who joins a growing list of visible out LGBTQ+ figures in the sport. Yes, he wants to win. But he also wants to build community.

“The things you think about as a coach are winning. That’s how you keep your job, that’s how you enjoy your job. It’s how the community can really get behind you,” he said this week in an interview with Nashville’s WKRN. “But the other thing I’m excited about is watching our athletes go through the Vanderbilt experience, and seeing what they can do when they graduate. One of the reasons I wanted this job is because I knew this university prepares talented people for what’s next.”

Nelson knew what was next for him in 2014, when he was a volleyball player himself at Ball State University. That’s when then-Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly came out, finally providing Nelson with an out male athlete to learn from.

But Nelson still wasn’t sure if he could take the step himself. It took a drastic life event for him to shift his perspective.

His epiphany arrived while he was caring for an ailing friend. The experience taught Nelson that his time on Earth is precious, and fleeting. He came out shortly thereafter, and it’s been an incredible journey ever since.

“I realized my sexuality wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t a health issue. It wasn’t something that was holding me back,” he told me in an interview. “[My friend] honestly put that in perspective for me.”

Since then, Nelson has been unstoppable. He enjoyed a sensational 11-year run at Kentucky, where the Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament every season. In Nelsons’ seven seasons as an associate coach, they amassed a record of 117-11 in official SEC matches and won at least a share of six conference titles.

The pinnacle of their run came in April 2021, when they defeated former national champions Washington and Texas in the Final Four to capture the first volleyball national title in SEC history.

Nelson’s resume made him a hot coaching candidate, and the perfect target for Vanderbilt. He was young enough to lead the program for years to come, but also experienced enough to compete in the nation’s preeminent sports conference.

The Commodores played their last volleyball game in 1980, before the program was discontinued for more than 40 years. Nelson has spent the last 18 months building up infrastructure, and is finally ready to welcome his first recruiting class.

“I’m still coaching volleyball. I’ve played volleyball, so the sport has obviously done a ton for me,” he told WKRN. “But just seeing how sports can open a lot of windows and doors for people. I’ve also seen how it can push you out of your comfort zone, and maybe become somebody you didn’t think you could become. My main goal is to use sport to get our athletes to do exactly that, and shatter their ceiling as we say.”

Located in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s pristine campus represents an idyllic version of college life. Immediately, the staff and sports department treated Nelson like family.

He threw out the first pitch at a baseball game, and enjoyed VIP access at a football game, where he met Vandy alumnus and country star Julia Cole.

“Learned @juliacolemusic pleaded with administration to add volleyball while she was at Vandy,” he posted on Instagram. “Pumped to meet @vandyvolleyball’s biggest fan!”

The Nashville Predators also gifted Nelson with his own jersey!

It’s apparent Nelson is soaking up the attention: his Instagram grid is filled with photos documenting his exciting run in Nashville. But all of those pics–as fabulous as they are–play a secondary role to his life’s main event.

His beautiful marriage with his husband, Mark. Anders proposed to Mark on the beach in August 2019, and they tied the knot a couple of years later on New Year’s Eve.

“I’m really proud of what Mark and I have, and I think if you’re proud of it, you should post it,” said Anders.

We agree!

Unlike other sports, there are a couple of other out gay coaches in women’s college volleyball: Alfee Raft at UCLA, and Jackson Simpson Kerr at Clemson.

Nelson says his experience as a gay man allows him to better relate with his players.

“It’s made me a lot more aware of making sure that every player in our program feels like they have a place, and feels like they belong,” he said. “In college, I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like I’d be accepted. Looking back, I would’ve been, but at the time, I didn’t feel like I could. I don’t ever want to make an athlete feel that way.”

This summer, Nelson is finally going to start working with his players. He’s selling the dream of winning an SEC title, and shattering expectations.

Sounds like a pretty good pitch to us!

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