ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 28: Riley Nelson #13 of the BYU Cougars gives the referee a high five after scoring during a game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Cowboys Stadium on October 28, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The TCU Horned Frogs defeated the BYU Cougars 38-28. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Having ridden the Riley Nelson roller coaster (figuratively, a non-Honor Code violation) for most of last season, and seeing his performance in the bowl game, I admit I got a pit in my stomach thinking of him as the starting quarterback for 2012. And perhaps I should still be worried. But darn it, the guy just wins you over.
While there's not a lot to discuss after one day of BYU spring football practice, I will say this: Riley Nelson is at the very least good for the big-picture of BYU's football program.
(And on that pit in my stomach after the Armed Forces Bowl win, learning that Nelson broke a rib early in the contest helped ease that a little. What a gamer.)
Will his arm strength improve? Can he lead BYU to another 10-win season with an improving schedule? Who knows. We'll see. But what I do like is his leadership -- and I don't just mean that in the "aw shucks, what a charismatic, likeable guy!" sort of way. For the good of the BYU football program, one that flirted at least for a time with unaccountability surrounding the highest-profile position on the team, Riley Nelson is making an impact. From Jason Shepherd and KSL's Cougar Tracks:
One thing that stood out very early in today's practice is that Riley Nelson is in charge of those quarterbacks. He was very much a part of instructing them and making sure they were doing what they were supposed to do. There was one occasion where Taysom Hill dropped back to pass and Riley stopped him to point out that he was looking at the wrong spot.
Nelson was simply doing what other senior quarterbacks have done at BYU--take control and make sure that the future Cougar QB's are doing it the right way. When asked how seriously he took that responsibility, Nelson said he "learned a lot watching Max Hall."
It got me thinking: at the very least, Riley Nelson is far and away the guy to steer BYU away from the mistakes of the Jake Heaps era (kind of like a certain coach we know in relation to his predecessor). Now I see why freshman simply never start at BYU. The post-Max-Hall link of the BYU QB leadership chain was broken when Jake Heaps took over without having had any lessons on leadership for a college locker room (compounded at BYU by not having served a mission, where he may have otherwise learned some of that maturity and leadership) and a natural leader like Riley Nelson was pushed aside.
I am on record as saying if a bunch of "mature" players had problems with an immature quarterback, the mature thing to do would be to rise above it and play hard anyway. And I still feel that is a legitimate part of last year's debacle -- the non-Jake-Heaps players are not unaccountable for that.
But moving forward, especially for the future of the quarterback position at BYU, I do feel good that Riley Nelson is the guy. How did the player who helped save a terrible season respond to being "the guy" headed into 2012?
When asked if he feels more at ease knowing that there is no QB controversy heading into this year's season Nelson responded "who says there's no question about it, I could stink it up. I didn't complete a ball today in team and if that trend continues, I'll be on the bench as quickly as anyone else."
Does he really think that? I'm not sure, but I'm not sure I care either. Nelson seems to be single-handedly purging any remnant of an entitlement culture that may have existed previously. My hope with all this is that Taysom Hill is groomed in this sort of team-first leadership mold in his lone year backing up Nelson. After that? That Hill passes it on to Tanner Mangum ... and so on.
So for better or worse on-field results in 2012, I repent of my anti-Riley ways. Let the QB factory re-open in 2013, even if a 2012 struggle is needed.