It’s been a long 11 months for Penn State offensive lineman Andrew Nelson to get back on the big stage of Beaver Stadium once again.
The redshirt senior tackle played in his first game Saturday since suffering a season-ending ACL tear last October against Maryland. It wasn’t entirely clear when he would find his way back to the field after head coach James Franklin stated midweek that “we want to make sure that he is ready before we put him back in,” but he did appear on a few occasions in the Nittany Lions win against Pitt.
“It was feel it out, but we had a game plan of ‘we’re going to get you some series here and there,'” Nelson said. “Once I got out there, I probably wanted to play a little bit more, but that was the plan we had. The training staff and the coaches do a great job.”
The road hasn’t been the easiest for Nelson since getting carted off during that rout of Maryland.
While Nelson was going through the strenuous recovery process that comes with a serious knee injury, Penn State went on its improbable tear through the Big Ten — defeating No. 2 Ohio State, claiming the conference title, and earning a spot in the Rose Bowl.
“Penn State means the world to him as a university and as a football program, and it’s tough when you know you can be out there contributing and you’re not,” offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said.
The recovery process, both mental and physical, weighed on him through that run and long into the offseason.
“All offseason, all summer, I was walking to the stadium praying that I’d be able to get back out here,” Nelson said.
“Physically it’s hard. It takes a while to come back from a major injury. But just mentally, I’ve had a ton of injuries throughout my career and it’s been hard, just that mental aspect of putting in so much work and then getting injured, and feeling like you’re not getting the fruits of your labor.”
Although he might’ve had to wait a little bit longer to enjoy the “fruits of his labor” following the injury, Nelson emerged to make an impact during his brief appearances Saturday — highlighted by opening up a gap with senior guard Brendan Mahon for Trace McSorley’s career-long 36-yard rush in the second half.
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) September 9, 2017
The three-year starter is listed as the second string at right guard as he fully recovers from the injury, sitting behind redshirt junior Chasz Wright. Following the success that Wright had toward the back stretch of last season in place of Nelson, the Penn State coaching staff isn’t ready to tip its hand to either as the starter in the coming weeks.
“Chasz Wright is our starting right tackle, and we won some very big games coming down to the end [last year]and performed pretty well in a bowl game, so Chasz has been a valuable member to what we have going on,” Limegrover said.
“But when you have a guy like Andrew Nelson who is able to be back and be healthy and be productive, that opens up a lot of pathways to get your best five on the field.”
At the moment, Nelson isn’t all that concerned where he slots in to the offensive line picture. He’s just happy to be back.
“Sometimes we forget how fun football can be, and that’s something I’ve taken for granted for too long,” Nelson said. “Being on the sideline, watching your team for a long time, when I finally got back out there, the first thing I thought to myself was ‘man, I’m having a lot of fun.'”