BYU junior quarterback Riley Nelson has endured a wild ride over the past couple of years.
After starting as a freshman at Utah State, he transferred to BYU after serving an LDS mission to Barcelona, Spain. He spent a year as an understudy to Cougar quarterback Max Hall, then battled then-freshman Jake Heaps for the starting job in 2010.
Nelson and Heaps tried taking turns early on in the season with Nelson starting the first three games before his season ended with shoulder surgery.
Although he was granted a medical hardship year, regaining the year of eligibility, Nelson had to watch as Heaps led the team to victories in five of the last seven games.
In 2011, it appeared that Heap had the starting position sewn up so Nelson started doing other things for the team, including participating on punt coverage.
When the team needed a spark against Utah State, however, the junior was ready.
Now he has led the Cougars to two straight victories and is preparing to guide BYU as it heads out on the road to play Oregon State (2 p.m., Fox College Sports Pacific/KBYU).
"It's been really good," Nelson said. "I've learned a lot and matured a lot as a person. I look forward to what the future holds. I can guarantee that even though I'm playing more football and not sitting on the sideline, the tough times aren't over. I look forward to learning from those and the positive things that come out of that."
For players like sophomore Cody Hoffman, who roomed with Nelson for a year, it's good to see a guy with Nelson's mentality have some success.
"I'm happy for him because I know that he's a hard worker," Hoffman said. "He inspires me to work harder just because of the attitude he brings to the team."
Senior running back JJ Di Luigi said Nelson has proven himself to be a leader.
"It's exciting," Di Luigi said. "He brings a spark to our offense, one that we were searching for. He's been the guy to kind of give us that. I think the offense is moving in such a great direction."
Di Luigi said that Nelson's ability keep a play alive can make for some fun times on the field.
"He can break a tackle and scramble around, and now your play is completely shot," the senior said. "Everyone is running around and that makes it more interesting and exciting. I think our offense is moving at a better pace."
Nelson said that although he's glad to have the chance he's getting, he knows life holds a lot more challenges.
"As far as football goes, I've still got two more years," he explained. "Getting my degree, there's still a lot of meat left on that bone and then I want to do post-graduate schooling. There's never a point where you can sit back and be satisfied."
While the offensive players were very complimentary of Nelson as an individual, they were quick to say that they have confidence in both quarterbacks.
"I just want a quarterback that will win games," Hoffman said. "If that's Riley (Nelson) that's been winning, than I'm going to stick with him. They are both great quarterbacks and I just want someone that will lead the team to victory."
Tuesdays picking up: The team is now using Tuesday practices to be more physical and hopefully get them better prepared for the game.
"Usually our normal Tuesday is a little slower," Hoffman said. "We picked up the tempo in practice today and that was good."
Di Luigi said: "Coach Mendenhall talked about upping our performances on Tuesdays. It's the longest practice and the most grueling physically and mentally. The difference between being a great team and good team may be what we do on Tuesdays. Both sides of the ball picked it up today. There were a lot harder hits and a lot more execution."
Di Luigi explained that the team needs a day that is more intense to keep the team sharp.
Injuries clearing up: BYU is fairly healthy right now, with the only two guys that were limited in practice getting a confident report from Cougar head football athletic trainer Kevin Morris.
He said that both senior linebacker Jordan Pendleton and sophomore offensive lineman Houston Reynolds both had positive outlooks.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or at email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.