Andrew Nelson dreamed of becoming the greatest offensive lineman in program history. What he got instead was a five-year, injury-stricken career and a lifetime’s worth of lessons.
Nelson has been through the wringer.
He was a redshirt freshman star in 2014, starting his first game in the season-opening Croke Park Classic and finishing the year with a Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College and second-team Freshman All-America honors.
However, the Hershey native continued to pick up significant knee injuries, cutting his next three seasons short. In 2017, he made five appearances and started once. Days before the Nittany Lions’ 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, during which Nelson watched from the sideline, he put his career in perspective for this edition of “Five Questions.”
Q: What has this year been like for you? To see what you’ve gone through injury-wise, how difficult has it been?
A: Obviously it’s been difficult. It’s been hard to go from, what I feel like is, playing at a high level to not really being able to get out there and contribute in my senior year. But that’s life. That’s how my path was, and unfortunately it was riddled with injuries. But that doesn’t mean that my career was all for naught. I’ve still enjoyed my time here. I’ve made a lot of lasting relationships. I’ve had a great time. It’s hard, but you just have to stay positive.
Q: You’ve been through, what? Three coaches now?
A: I was recruited by Joe’s staff, committed here under Bill O’Brien’s staff, played a year under him and then now the new staff.
Q: Not many guys go through that much change. How have you changed since you walked in as a wide-eyed freshman?
A: I’ve learned, and this probably has a lot to do with injuries, that life is a lot more than football. Even within football, it’s not just your performance on the field. It’s what you do in the community. It’s how you affect your teammates. It’s how you lead your team. It’s how you coach the young guys. It’s all that stuff. I think that’s kind of the biggest thing I learned. When I was a freshman, I had one thing on my mind, and that was, “I’m going to be the best offensive lineman at Penn State.” You kind of learn that there’s more to your life and more to your story than just that.
Q: The highs were high, and the lows kind of are what they are, I guess. How do you think this experience has bettered you and prepared you for when you leave Penn State?
A: I mean, I think the adversity I faced here has prepared me for whatever I do — more than if I just had a normal career. I’m thankful for that. I feel like the lessons I’ve learned about being a servant and leader is way more important than performances on the field. There are so many life lessons I’ve learned through the highs and lows. You know, as much as the lows have taught me, I have a lot of memories from the highs. There have been a lot of great things that I’ve been able to accomplish, our team has been able to accomplish, things that I’m going to remember forever. It’s my path. It’s different than everyone else’s. But I’m thankful for what it’s taught me.
Q: What are your post-Penn State plans?
A: It’s still up in the air right now. For me, despite all the surgeries and stuff, I feel like the NFL could still be open. But I’m still deciding on that.