Why I’m a Riley Nelson Guy Now

I have an eclectic group of names here.  Tell me if you can come up with a connection.

Joe Montana

George Washington

Michael Jordan

Jimmy Johnson

Vince Lombardi

Peyton Manning

Joan of Arc

Willy Mays

Kobe Bryant

Steve Young

Hank Aaron

Dan Marino

If I add Riley Nelson to this list, does it help?

Though most of the names are recent in the annals of history, the common thread tugging on each of their names now is that they are all winners.  Okay, this might be a strange list to put together, but winning is more than just being in the right place at the right time.  Winning requires continuous motivation, positive thinking, goal setting, sacrifice, passion, able to be teachable, and dedication.

Last year, when the BYU Cougars were firmly entrenched in the Jake Heaps debacle and Riley Nelson was looming in the shadows, there weren’t many people who were clamoring for Nelson to take the reins.  I heard it said on one podcast that he could best serve the team by cleaning out his locker and turning in his pads.  I can’t say I was far off that notion.  My estimation was that Nelson was a passable back up who was eating away at Jake’s confidence in himself as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in him.  Get rid of Riley and Jake quits looking over his shoulder.  Our prized top recruit can jump back in and finally be successful.  (We didn’t know at that time that when the going would get tough that Jake would just take his “talent” to Lawrence, Kansas.)

Riley Nelson came in for the final 15 or so minutes against Utah State and I heard an audible gasp/sigh from the crowd as I walked down to get some food at the concession stand.  His first series didn’t go very well even with a 22 yard completion to Cody Hoffman – it ended in a missed field goal after the drive stalled at the Utah State 30.  Then, as Austin Collie once famously stated, “Magic happen(ed)” and the Cougars completed a 60 yard drive with a 24 yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman.  The teams traded series for the rest of the quarter and after a muffed punt return opportunity, the Cougars had the ball on their own 4 yard line with 2:36 on the clock, backed up into the near end zone.  Some crazy scrambling, an unlikely 40 yard heave to McKay Jacobsen, and a tipped pass for a touchdown later, and BYU fans were celebrating what seemed like a near impossible win.

But there was no way the coaches would give control to Riley full-time.  Certainly Jake had learned his lesson, suffered a humiliating benching, but would be better from it right?  The coaches stayed with Riley and ultimately gave him their unequivocal support for the rest of the season.  But more importantly, Riley Nelson won over a fan base that wouldn’t have otherwise ever given him the acknowledgement of being in the same room, let alone the same stadium.

So what happened?  If you believe the stories from the locker room, Riley went about his business, working hard, staying motivated in the toughest of situations, he stayed positive, sacrificed by playing on special teams, and above all, he stayed dedicated to his team mates and the BYU program even though they had seemingly all passed him by in his chance to be the BYU quarterback.

So what makes someone want to follow another person?  How does someone become that leader in the locker room, the battlefield, or the mean streets of the corporate world?  I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  What I do know is what Riley Nelson has done at least so far as the media and the fans have been able to see – he wins, he’s humble, he never quit.  Sure, some may say that going from the extreme of wanting him to quit the team to the other extreme of being firmly in the “I’m with Riley” camp can be seen as fickle, but as fans, aren’t we all just a bit fickle?

This guy right here is firmly in camp Riley.  He’s won me over as a fan, and I hope he can stay healthy this whole season and show us just what he is capable of doing in 2012.

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