Riley Nelson remembers the old days. That’s when "football was life," in his words, when he was the one seeking medical treatment and when a college career marked by "the transfer, the scrutiny and the criticism" was concluding with a weird sequence of events.
And this would have been the headline back in 2012: "Riley Nelson stripped of play-calling duties."
He’s in a much lower-profile position than BYU quarterback now, no longer subjected to having every twist and turn of his life thoroughly chronicled. He’s newly married, he’s 15 pounds lighter, his hair is shorter, he’s working as a physical therapy aide, he’s privately training youth-league quarterbacks and he’s coaching Logan High School’s offense, all while awaiting the outcome of the medical school application process.
At this stage, he’s hoping for interview opportunities. He’ll have stories to tell any committee, that’s for sure. Perseverance? Determination? Adaptability? He has those subjects covered.
There are all those highs and lows from his two-school college career, and then there’s Friday night. His brother, Chase, broke another Nelson brother’s state record for total offense in a game with 691 yards in a 49-38 victory over Roy — after Logan coach Mike Favero decided last week to take over the play-calling in a move that Riley Nelson understood.
"Bottom line, I’m a first-year play-caller, and we’re getting into the meat" of the schedule, Nelson said in advance of the game.
Working with his brother and the Grizzlies’ other offensive players is rewarding, providing just enough "vicarious competition" to keep him from missing his own playing career too much. He’s thriving, judging by Logan’s 5-0 record, even if the play-calling in Favero’s fast-paced system requires some experience.
Logan receiver Taylor Compton labels playing for Nelson "a luxury," and Chase Nelson appreciates his brother’s "tough love," he said.
"He praises hard and gets on you hard, which is good. I love it," Chase Nelson said.
Riley Nelson is relentlessly optimistic and forward-thinking. Yet he was inevitably, willingly drawn into a discussion of everything that occurred last September, when he played against Utah and Boise State with fractured vertebra.
So would the future Dr. Nelson, the son of a physician, manage himself the same way?
"I would try and play," he said, "no doubt."
He wanted to play, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall wanted him to play, and so he played, with mixed results. Without being asked to do so, Nelson detailed the circumstances, strategy and personnel issues behind all five losses the Cougars suffered last season — completely skipping his four wins as the starting quarterback.
"It was almost bizarre ... so many things out of the ordinary happened," he said.
That’s mostly how Nelson remembers his senior season, and that’s how he’ll be remembered in Provo, at least in the short term. There’s much more to his story, including the rally against his old Utah State team, the winning touchdown pass in the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa and a bunch of other victories.
After everything he went through in Provo, Nelson maintains a healthy perspective on football.
This is what Logan’s players can learn from him: His college teammates such as Ziggy Ansah, Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, still one of his closest friends, were "born for the game," Nelson said. "For the rest of us, the game was made for us — in other words, to put us in unique situations, to prepare us, to reveal what kind of men we are, what kind of character we have."
That’s his takeaway from a career that may have included "a fizzled-out finish," as he said, but left him with lessons he’s only beginning to apply.
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