PROVO — BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was cleared to play football again by doctors on Tuesday, paving the way for him to possibly start Saturday at Hawaii.
"Riley's results were clean," said Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Based on how he feels on game day, if he feels like he can play, we'll play him … We're practicing him like he's the starter right now. If Riley's able to play, we'll play him."
A decision isn't expected until game day, the coach said.
On Monday, Mendenhall said that if Nelson could play, he would be the starter on Saturday (5:30 p.m., MT, ESPN2) against Hawaii.
BYU head trainer Kevin Morris said Nelson has improved dramatically after he suffered lung and rib injuries against Idaho on Nov. 12. "The way he's progressing, it looks really good," Morris said.
Morris added that a protective shirt has been ordered for Nelson to wear to protect his lungs and ribs.
"We're having a custom-made shirt that is being made today and it will be shipped out to us in Hawaii," Morris said.
Nelson's speedy recovery is unexpected and nothing short of amazing, especially considering the original prognosis was that he'd be sidelined for four weeks.
"I was told there would be no chance for the Hawaii game, but that we might get him back for the bowl game," Mendenhall said. "It's surprised me … He's just tough. The injury is healed, basically. We weren't sure he'd even be able to fly. That was the biggest concern, the pressurization in the cabin. Once they cleared him to fly, his thought was, 'Well, can I play?' He's been kind of forcing the issue."
"That's some pretty fast healing," said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman. "To me, it's pretty miraculous."
During the Cougars' second offensive series against Idaho, Nelson dropped back to pass and was drilled by a Vandal defensive end — a hit that eventually forced him out of the game, and sent him to the hospital.
As for the way he was injured, Nelson won't forget it.
"I knew I had one-on-one with the defensive end. When I pulled up and stopped, my back foot slipped from under me," Nelson recalled. "He caught me with my arm up, which is one of the most defenseless positions you can get caught in as a quarterback.
"He got up under my throwing arm. He was a big dude, and I'm not a very big dude. He picked me up and put me into the ground. When he put me into the ground, I felt it. There were cracks and pops and some pain. I knew maybe an AC joint separation (shoulder). I felt a crack on my sternum. None of those things happened, but that's what I felt in my chest. Those weren't the injuries that I suffered, but I felt that. Those are injuries I've had previously, and I knew I could play with."
Nelson actually suffered a partially collapsed lung and a rib injury on the play. But, amazingly, Nelson continued playing anyway.
The series ended with him connecting on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman. Nelson absorbed another hard hit as he let go of the ball.
"My breathing became so short. And the pain in my chest was a pain I had never experienced before. So I was more focused on that than the throw," Nelson remembered. "That post (pattern) actually wasn't in the read. But I was in so much pain, and at that point was getting a little light-headed to where I said to myself, 'If I get one-on-one (coverage), I'm going to throw it up, then maybe have to call a timeout.'
"But luckily Cody came down with it. I walked off the field. I didn't celebrate with anybody. Normally, I like celebrating with everybody, but I couldn't stand up straight. I couldn't breathe. I was focused on breathing and making it so they didn't have to come get me off the field. The breathing became a problem. I came to the sideline. It was a pain I had never experienced before. I called over the trainers and they knew it was something more than cracked ribs or cartilage tears in my sternum."
As painful as that injury has been, Nelson said "the most beat up I've ever been" was when he played Hawaii as a true freshman at Utah State. "It literally brought tears to my eyes getting out of bed. Normally I'm sore, but not that sore."
COUGARS ON THE AIR
BYU (8-3) at Hawaii (6-6)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MT
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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