One of Andrew Nelson's goals this season was to be one of the mainstays of the Penn State offensive line, consistently contributing to the line's anticipated resurgence after a lackluster 2014.
However, the line has continued to struggle this season, and so has Nelson. The 6-foot-6, 302-pound redshirt sophomore tackle from Hershey has missed two stretches totaling five games with injuries, episodes that have left him "kind of [teed] off."
"Obviously in your mind, prior to the season, you have a way you think things are going to go," Nelson said. "Unfortunately for me, that's just not the way it went this year. At times I've been frustrated with things. However, I think I've learned a lot, and I'm at the point now where I'm thankful for being out there for each game."
Nelson said the main lesson he has learned this season has been that "my plan for my life and God's plan for my life may not be the same thing all the time.
"At times that's going to be difficult because you have your dreams . . . but that's not always the case. That's been a hard thing to swallow this year because I had aspirations of the way I wanted the season to go. But I'm thankful to be out there with my teammates and able to compete for this university."
Nelson went down on the final play of the first half in the Sept. 12 home opener against Buffalo with what was believed to be an injury to his right leg or right knee, and missed the next three games. He returned Oct. 10 against Indiana but, two weeks later, he suffered what appeared to be a similar injury against Maryland. He sat out two more game and came back last weekend against Michigan.
Penn State head coach James Franklin does not discuss injuries.
The losses of Nelson have hindered the line's attempt to build continuity. The line has had seven different starting combinations in the season's 11 games to date, and an eighth lineup could be possible in Saturday's game at Michigan State.
Franklin moved Nelson from his normal right tackle spot to left tackle in the loss to Michigan to "try to create a better matchup," he said on his Tuesday teleconference. Nelson could stay there as the Nittany Lions attempt to neutralize Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun, the team leader in sacks, who will rush from Christian Hackenberg's blind side.
Sacks have been a sore spot with Nelson and the offensive line all season. After the Lions allowed 44 sacks in 13 games last season, they are close to the same pace this year with 37. Hackenberg has been the target on 36 of them, and the line has taken a beating from critics.
Nelson tackled the subject again during a conference call Tuesday, with a bit of an edge to his voice.
"I think the media likes to take the sack number and make that this extremely important thing that we all look at, like we're counting sacks after every single game," he said. "That's just not the way it is. The way we look at it is . . . we're going to learn from the film and we can definitely be better every game."
Nelson will tell you he is happy being back, admitting that "it's hard to stay optimistic" amid his injuries this season.
"But I think that's one of the important things in life, no matter what you're going through, just keep looking up," he said. "That's kind of the mind-set I've taken."