After taking a shot to the chest by a Vandal defender last Saturday, junior quarterback Riley Nelson suffered a fractured rib and lung injury, or small pneumothorax in his lung, which is similar to a collapsed lung. The injury will require at least a four-week recovery.
“It was heartbreaking for me,” Coach Doman said. “It was hard to hear that he was not going to play in the rest of the [Idaho] game, and I didn’t know how long [it’s going to take], and the last we still don’t know because he’s still healing right now. I just know the young man had an opportunity to play and he maximized it, took advantage of it and did a good job and got injured. So that was hard to see for him.”
Knowing how tough the 6-foot, 190-pound Nelson is, Doman began to question what was wrong when Nelson was slow to get up during the Idaho game.
“He stayed down a couple times, so I figured it was either a separated shoulder or something was wrong like a separated shoulder or he had broken a rib,” Doman said. “I mean, that’s the only thing I know happens to quarterbacks, and both happened to me my senior year here, so I thought one of those two things occurred with him and I didn’t know which one.”
Doman soon found out that Nelson would not be able to continue playing.
“Eventually they got on the phone and told me that I better start warming another quarterback up because he wasn’t coming back in,” Coach Doman said. “At that point I knew [the injury] was significant enough, and it was going to require something significant to get him off the field which, obviously, makes me like him even more.”
“You know, Riley is the type of guy that you’re going to have tie him down to really get him to sit out, or he’s got to be strapped down in a hospital bed or something so he’s not moving around and being a part of what we’re doing,” said running back Bryan Kariya. “I think that’s one of the more respectable things about him is he just has a drive and a passion for the team and the contribution he can make.”
Despite any pain he was experiencing, as well as any struggling to breathe, Nelson stayed in the game and drove the Cougar offense downfield and threw a touchdown pass before leaving for the hospital.
“He played five or six plays with a hole in his lung, so if you can find me a guy with as much guts as that, I want him here at BYU,” Coach Doman said.
On Wednesday, Nelson again showed how tough he is. As the team practiced, the players received a surprise visit from Nelson, who cheered them on while wearing his green practice jersey from the sidelines.
“It was great to see him and everybody had a big smile when he came out,” said J.J. Di Luigi. “A guy like that influences people’s emotions just by walking on the field, and he’s a great leader in that sense and it’s awesome to have him back out.”
“We’re excited to see him up and moving around and walking around,” said Kariya. “It did surprise me to see him out here looking like an elephant with his green practice jersey on.
“Some people saw him in the locker room earlier but there wasn’t any official announcement or anything on what was going on. It was just good to see him back around with us.”
While on the sidelines, Nelson cheered on and gave encouragement to the delight of his teammates.
“Oh you know, he was just kind of enjoying practice and cheering us on,” said Kariya with a laugh in his voice. “He tries to have fun out here and encourages us all to do the same. I think he’s one that realizes what it means to play out here, especially with some of the injuries he’s had out here. He understands that every snap is precious and you have to really live it up.”
For Di Luigi, Wednesday wasn’t the first time he’s seen Nelson since the injury took place.
“I actually went over to his house the other night,” Di Luigi said. “You know, he’s staying positive and healing up quick and feeling better and better every day.
“Knowing Riley, he wants to be out there just more than anybody. That guy is a competitor through and through and he wishes he could take the field [against New Mexico State] with us, especially with us seniors.”