Quantcast

Dick Harmon: Riley Nelson a force of nature

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 9:01 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson watches the game from the sideline during the third quarter as Brigham Young University faces Idaho State in NCAA football in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson watches the game from the sideline during the third quarter as Brigham Young University faces Idaho State in NCAA football in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PROVO —

First, Riley Nelson was doubtful, out for four weeks, give or take.

Then, in a "clarified" update on his injury last week, trainer Kevin Morris said the BYU quarterback didn't have broken ribs but his lung had lost a lot of air and had to be pumped back up after a first-quarter hit in a win over Idaho 20 days ago.

Then Nelson showed up at practice last week and started running around. Then he began throwing the ball. Then he ran plays.

Then doctors cleared him to fly to Hawaii, lifting a restriction due to pressurization of the airplane cabin and its effect on his condition.

Then came jokes that Nelson indeed would fly to Hawaii this week but he wouldn't be on any plane. He'd just take a few hops, leap in the air and be away, his cape flapping behind his head as he rocketed toward the rising sun.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson cheers on his team from the sideline during the third period as Brigham Young University faces Idaho State in NCAA football in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson cheers on his team from the sideline during the third period as Brigham Young University faces Idaho State in NCAA football in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Then, on Tuesday, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said medical experts "cleared" Nelson to play against Hawaii on Saturday and that if Nelson "felt" OK on game day, he would be on the field leading the Cougars against the Warriors.

No hint Mendenhall was joking when he gave the qualifier "if he felt OK."

It would take all the guns of the Pacific fleet to keep Nelson off the field in Aloha Stadium.

He's just that kind of guy.

Just 20 days ago he was told he'd be out four weeks. By my math, that's about 28 days by the way the moon transverses the sky.

BYU's #13 Riley Nelson zigs and zags his way past USU players as BYU and Utah State play Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's #13 Riley Nelson zigs and zags his way past USU players as BYU and Utah State play Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

And here Nelson is, pulling off a miracle comeback of sorts.

OK, it may not be a medical anomaly akin to overcoming cancer or running on a compound fracture or torn ACL. But it does inspire. And that's why most teammates follow him.

"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."

Forcing the issue?

Riley Nelson is forcing everything. He's forced a myriad of issues: team politics, offseason workouts, daily workouts, scheme changes, defensive changes, hairstyles, future quarterback developments, and the display of his external oblique, rectus and transverse abdominis muscles via a cut-up jersey. And now he's forced the seat count on a plane charter to include him.

Quarterback Riley Nelson looks to pass to teammate #89 Matthew Edwards during BYU football practice Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterback Riley Nelson looks to pass to teammate #89 Matthew Edwards during BYU football practice Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The grandson of former Utah State basketball coach and athletic director Rod Tueller has forced the issue ever since he transferred to BYU from Utah State during his LDS mission in Barcelona, Spain, forcing a tweak to NCAA rules for missionaries.

He's forced a change in plans for James Lark, who was recruited over him the same year and forced the timetable and possible future or no future of Jake Heaps in Provo.

Nelson has forced BYU's coaching staff into changing an offense and QB pecking order that could dramatically affect not only the 2012 season but preparation and readiness for the QB position in 2013 when he's long gone to medical school.

Nelson has forced the issue when Heaps clearly had the edge in running a traditional offense the past two springs and summers, yet he won hearts and minds with his maturity, grit and leadership.

Riley Nelson looks to pass during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011.   (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Riley Nelson looks to pass during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

He forced the issue when he volunteered for special teams and took off his protective green jersey to allow live hits in practice. He forced the issue when he came in against Utah State and saved the day with a blend of gutty plays, luck and inspiring attitude.

On game day, he'll force two football teams to choose the style of how they'll play.

And if he is injured again in Saturday's game, he'll force both teams on the field to change their philosophy and tactics on the run.

This is what makes the return of Nelson on Saturday such an intriguing element in the renewal of the BYU-Hawaii rivalry.

He is a force to be reckoned with, indeed.

Email: dharmon@desnews.com.

Twitter: @Harmonwrites

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company