BYU football: BYU quarterback Riley Nelson shows mental toughness pays off
Fortunately for Nelson, his dedication to preparation has returned him to the starting role. Although it’s been a winding road to this point, Nelson said he’s confident in his ability because he has stuck to his strengths through thick and thin.
“Ups and downs are going to happen throughout your life and you just have to stick with it,” Nelson said. “Just stick to the game plan, stick to what you know, stick to your identity. That part of my philosophy translates on and off the field.”
Understanding the principle of perseverance has served Nelson well throughout his athletic career. According to Keith Nelson, Riley’s father, even as young man, Riley showed his earnest resolve could overcome setbacks and roadblocks.
“Riley had surgeries at a young age that tested him physically and emotionally,” he said. “They set him back so that he had to start from behind and catch up to the others.”
Keith explained when Riley was 12 years old, he broke his femur, causing a growth arrest in his right leg. The problem persisted until surgery intervened, leaving Riley with scars on the outside of his thigh that resemble bullet holes and costing him nearly half a year in rehabilitation.
“It says a lot about his resolve that he’s the kind of soul who can stick to his goal, despite those setbacks,” Keith said.
Last November, at the Utah 4A State Football Championship, Nelson had the opportunity to teach his younger brother a lesson in perseverance.
Nelson’s brother, DJ, was a senior quarterback at Logan High School and had led the Grizzlies to the state championship game with a perfect record of 13-0. In the championship game, they were matched against East High School, a team they had previously beaten.
In the final game, East surprised Logan with a completely new defense. The result was a low-scoring, grind out game that came down to the wire. With two minutes remaining, DJ’s Grizzlies took the field trailing by one point.
“For the whole game, East had really formulated the perfect defensive plan to stifle Logan High’s offense,” Riley recalls. “The clock was ticking away and I was thinking we had one or two more drives in the game. I kept saying to my little brother, ‘Stay with it, they will bust.’”
Riley told his brother to avoid doing anything frantic and to stick to his strengths, even though the East High defense had been causing problems the entire game. Sure enough, on a play they’d ran many times before, DJ found a receiver who’d broken free in the man-to-man coverage and made the game-winning touchdown pass.
“I told him if he stayed calm while everyone else was frantic around him, eventually it would pay off,” Riley said. “He stuck to it, and he threw a 40-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds or so left to win the game.”
Several months after the state championship game, Nelson said goodbye to DJ, who was called to serve a mission in Puerto Rico. Nelson knows from experience that an LDS mission is a master course in perseverance and making the best of any given circumstance.
In 2007, Nelson was called to serve a mission in Barcelona, Spain. Like many new missionaries, Nelson was excited to serve the Lord and expected his hard work to result in numerous conversions.
“You start off with these expectations of baptizing the whole world,” Nelson said. “But when you get over there, you learn there are so many things you can’t control, including the agency of another person.”
For Nelson, respecting the agency of others and their decision to accept or reject the gospel was an important lesson to learn. It reinforced a principle taught to him by his father in Little League football, that the things you can’t control shouldn’t keep you from putting forth your best effort at all times.
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