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Eugene Tanner, AP
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson (13) fakes a hand off to Joshua Quezada, left, before passing in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, in Honolulu.
You kind of have the constant stress of school as the year goes on, but once you take comprehensive finals, and have a lot of papers, projects and presentations due, you don't realize the toll mental stress has on your body.

PROVO — With final exams completed, the BYU Cougars are eager to return to practice Monday morning in preparation for the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa on Dec. 30.

"You kind of have the constant stress of school as the year goes on, but once you take comprehensive finals, and have a lot of papers, projects and presentations due, you don't realize the toll mental stress has on your body," quarterback Riley Nelson told the Deseret News. "But it's good to have that over with and to be able to focus on football."

As the Cougars reconvene for practice, they'll do so without sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. On Dec. 5, just days after BYU clobbered Hawaii, 41-20, in the regular-season finale in Honolulu, the school announced Heaps' plans to transfer. Heaps took a recruiting trip to Kansas over the weekend.

What did Nelson think of Heaps' decision to leave BYU?

"I can't say I was surprised because I don't know the details of the situation," said Nelson, who transferred from Utah State to BYU. "Coming from someone who has transferred schools, I know it's very personal. Mine wasn't as public as his, but it was discussed in a public forum. A lot of the stuff people say does get back to you. There are a lot of elements that go into that decision that nobody else knows. All of the people critiquing you, criticizing you or even supporting your decision don't know all of the details, they don't know every aspect that went into that. At the end of the day, you have to do what you feel is best for you. In Jake's case, for him and his family — he has a wife and that brings an extra element into it — that's another factor I have no clue about. There are so many things that go into one's decision. I can't say that I was surprised. I'm sad to see him go because he was a good teammate and an incredible talent. We wish him the best. We recognized that it's a personal decision that he made."

"I like Jake. He's a really good guy. I wish him the best," said center Terence Brown. "It's too bad that things didn't work out for him here at BYU. I hope he and his wife find what they are looking for and I hope they can be successful."

Nelson replaced Heaps as the starter after rallying the Cougars to a win over Utah State on Sept. 30. Prior to starting against Hawaii, Nelson had been sidelined for a couple of weeks with rib and lung injuries suffered against Idaho on Nov. 12. But in Hawaii, he didn't play like he was injured, throwing for a career-high 363 yards and three touchdowns.

"I'm still really, really sore when I wake up. I feel how I imagine those longtime veterans in the NFL feel, as far as always being sore. It takes me forever to warm up," he said. "I sprained both of my shoulders and those take forever to warm up. But when it comes game day, you get that adrenalin and then you get those shots that numb you up so you don't feel much when you go out and play. Initially, from the (rib and lung) injury, I was diagnosed with a 4-6 week recovery. We're sitting at four weeks. I'm still feeling the after-effects of that. Just still really sore."

The Cougars will practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week before taking a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The team departs for Dallas in one week, on Dec. 26.

Nelson said that since the Hawaii game, he and his teammates haven't had organized practices — the coaches have been on the recruiting trail — but he explained that they have been preparing for Tulsa by spending time in the weight room and in the film room.

"We still have a game left and it's coming up sooner than we think. So we made sure we did football stuff," said Nelson. "Guys were doing some technique drills. The quarterbacks got the receivers together and we threw a little bit. We lifted, we ran, and did something to do with football, along with watching film. It was helpful. It was a good diversion from studying for finals. You can only stare at textbooks for so long. To be able to take a break and concentrate on football was good. I'll say this about our team — guys know what has to get done. They know what it takes to get an edge in preparation. Just because we didn't have organized film study or organized workouts, doesn't mean guys weren't going to do it. We have a lot of mature guys. We had a lot of players, as they could, between finals, study film and do what they need to do for us to play well against Tulsa."

Brown said the team was put through difficult workouts by strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer the past couple of weeks.

"We're ready to not see coach Omer anymore and get back with our coaches and practice," he said. "We've been working hard the last two weeks conditioning and getting our strength back. I feel great right now, ready to get going on Monday morning."

Cougars and Golden Hurricane on the air

Armed Forces Bowl

Tulsa (8-4) vs. BYU (9-3)

Dec. 30, 10 a.m., MT

Ford Stadium, Dallas


Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM