Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — While the BYU football team leaves Sunday for San Diego, injured quarterback Riley Nelson is hoping to play in his final collegiate game when the Cougars meet San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20.
It's been a painful season for Nelson, who suffered fractured vertebrae in his back in the second game of the season against Weber State, and he ended up missing two games due to that injury.
Nelson said this week that he "really underestimated the severity of the (back) injury. It was something I had never experienced or dealt with, so I didn't know what it was like. Last week, when we were doing lifting and conditioning, it flared up a little bit. I'm still not over the hump."
He also suffered a rib injury against San Jose State on Nov. 17, forcing him to be sidelined for the New Mexico State game.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall hasn't named a starter for the bowl game. James Lark took the majority of snaps in practice last week.
Certainly, this season hasn't gone the way Nelson had hoped.
"Physically, it's been really hard. Breaking my back, then my ribs and having to fight through it and never really being at 100 percent, that's been hard," Nelson said. "Then mentally and psychologically just having to deal with not being 100 percent and knowing that you're not being the player you could be. Then of course the what-ifs and if-onlys creep in. But it's been good. I've learned a lot about myself and really forged some strong bonds with my teammates. So even though it wasn't probably what we envisioned starting off, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Nelson said he has no regrets.
"None whatsoever. Everything that's happened is out of my control — it really is," he said. "Injuries, depth charts and all those things, I stayed consistent and came to work every day and gave my heart and soul to the game and to my teammates and to the program. I sleep good at night. Not a single regret."
For Nelson, staying healthy has been difficult.
"It's hard for a 6-foot, 200-pound guy to do," he said. "That's what I've learned over my five years. I'll do my best. Hopefully the season can finish out with a win. That's all I'm worried about."
Does he have something to prove in his final game at BYU?
"Only to myself," he said. "I want to play my game and try to get as healthy as possible. I can't remember the last time I stepped out onto the field and felt good. If that can happen in the bowl game, and then I can clear my mind, execute well and play mentally sound, it will be a good thing."
SAN DIEGO, HERE WE COME: The Cougars not only participated in bowl practices last week, but they also finished up final exams and final projects.
"I'm done with finals," said senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree, who has graduated. "It feels like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. Completely done."
And now, players and coaches are eager to take relatives with them to San Diego.
"If you have to pick a place to play a bowl game, San Diego has to be at the top of the list," said Ogletree, who will be accompanied by his wife, Amanda, and his 15-month-old son, Luke. "It will be a good place. We're excited."
RECEIVING STREAK: Wide receiver Cody Hoffman has caught at least one pass in 31 consecutive games, and 37 of his 38 career games.
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