Nelson back as starting quarterback

Riley Nelson

Riley Nelson sat out the past two games to heal a back injury while true freshman quarterback Tasyom Hill took over in his stead. So, how close was Nelson to playing against Utah State, the team he once transferred from? Nelson was very, very close.

"Yeah, I practiced all the way up ‘til Wednesday, so yeah, I was that close," said Riley Nelson about last week. "I mean, I was two days away. Coach Mendenhall decided to make the decision, and I told him that I was going to do everything that I can. They allowed me a day to put it on tape what I could do. They allowed me that and their decision was to start Taysom [Hill], and it worked out for us. That's the ultimate state and all that matters, and it was the right decision."

This Saturday against the 10th ranked Beavers of Oregon State, Nelson will make grand reappearance as BYU's starting quarterback dressed in all black for a game televised ABC.

"Yeah I'll be starting and that was the plan last week," Nelson said. "My progress has come along how we planned, and so I'm full go for Oregon State.

"So, yeah, I feel good and full go. I'm excited, we have a top-10 opponent in our house on homecoming and it's a great opportunity, so I'm really excited and we had a lot of energy [Monday] in practice. The guys worked really hard and we executed pretty well too for the first day of the game plan."

Football is a tough-guy sport, and typically players don't want to be looked at by their teammates as being the one guy who couldn't hack it. Nelson tried to gut it out in the Utah and Boise State games, but in the long run he's learned a few lessons from that experience.

"It's been hard but I needed it to get healthy, and it was tough and I left that decision up to the coaches," Nelson said. "Obviously, I played against Utah and I played against Boise State, so I told them that if they needed me I was available. But their decision was to rest me. It definitely worked wonders as far as healing me up."

Nelson claims his back feels much better now.

"Those two weeks, as much as I tried to push through it with Boise and Utah and all those things, I did nothing against Hawaii, and limited reps preparing for Utah State really helped it. And so, I hardly feel it at all."

As one would expect, Nelson is happy to be getting back to his old self

"I feel good and I'm excited to get back and play healthy without any limitations or any kind of pain or injury on my mind. It's going to be fun to play with a clear mind again."

But after missing a few games and receiving limited reps while he was recovering, does Nelson feel he'll have a lot of rust to shake off once he steps out onto the field?

"No, actually, because my back feels good," Nelson said with a smile. "My back feels good and so I'll be able to move freely and there won't be lots of pain or intense pain when I get hit. It was at a point where I was feeling it at every step, in every throw and in every cut and in every move. Eventually what happens is that accumulated and it occupies my mind so much to where it affected my decision making and play and really my confidence level. And so, that's all gone ‘cause I don't feel pain anymore, and I don't hurt and I don't move hurt anymore. I'm back to myself."

Nevertheless, there is a side effect he has to deal with after being out.

"For this injury I've got some conditioning that I've got to make up some ground on," Nelson said. "Other than that I feel great."

Nelson said he is close to being 100 percent.

"I'm getting there, and like I said, my conditioning needs to come back, so I'm working hard in practice before and after to bring that back. Now, my quickness, agility and speed, I feel pretty close. Those obviously won't be optimal or maximized until my conditioning is all the way there, but that's the only part of my game.

"My arm feels really good, my motion feels good, my release feels good and my arm strength is back, [as is] being able to twist my hips and get all that power from my core. So my conditioning is that last thing. That's just the nature of the injury and they had to rest me completely. I couldn't have done anything to keep my conditioning up while I was sitting out, so as I work on that this week, and as I kind of get that back, I imagine in these next couple of weeks as I get that back, then I feel 100 percent as far as feeling good and walking around in everyday life."

But after his latest injury, will Nelson have to alter his style of play?

"I'm going to play as I've been playing," said Nelson. "I didn't play hesitant and I took all the hits I needed to take and ran when I needed to run when I was playing with fractures in my back. Now that they're healed, I don't expect to revert back to playing any differently.

"I learned that you have to give your body time to heal, and also that as much as you want to play and stuff like that, the best thing is to step back and let your body heal. Football is a brutal game and guys play through injuries all the time. You don't want to be the one guy that bows out and says no. The coaches made that decision for me and it ended up being the best decision. I guess what I learned is sometimes you have to listen to your body in order to let it heal, and then allow yourself to heal to be the player that you really are and not play at a handicap or maybe a percentage of what kind of a player that you are."

So, he doesn't anticipate having any hesitation out on the field or taking a conservative approach to running the offense.

"I've been around this game too long. I know you can't play that way. You can't survive that way."

It's seems it's tough to survive the sport of football, whether one is playing it safe or not. Either way, there has to be better decision making or else no one will benefit – not even one's team, no matter how gritty someone thinks they are.

"You can't look back, and it's in the past and there's no second-guessing and hindsight's 20/20," said Nelson. "I know a lot of newspapers can be sold and a lot of websites can be hit speculating and talking about all that stuff, but as far as I'm concerned I gave it my all and sometimes you don't come out on top. It's actually nice to know that I gave it all that I have.

"I'm learning more and more and obviously I keep getting banged up. I saw what happened to RG3 [Robert Griffin III] yesterday. He's a player that could have thrown it away or run out of bounds. Situationally I have to do that, but if I'm called on to run the ball or run option, I'm going to run how I know how to run. But I guess in those unnecessary hits, again to use the example of RG3, he didn't have to take that hit down there. And there have been times that I've taken hits that I didn't have to take, so moving forward that's really been my goal since day one. Now, it's a hard skill to learn because you've been reacting naturally and reacting a certain way for a while. But if you see any difference in my play, that may be the only difference and will be a minor one."

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