If there is a positive one can take from missing an entire season of football because of an injured knee, Jordy Nelson believes he has found it.
He gets to be a college football fan again.
Nelson, the former Kansas State standout receiver who’s now a Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers, says some of his favorite memories occurred in the parking lot surrounding Bill Snyder Family Stadium. He remembers showing up for games as a teenager with his family. They parked on the east side, played touch football, grilled food and shared stories with friends. Then they went inside and watched the Wildcats.
He gets to relive those memories Saturday, albeit with a brace on his right knee to help him walk with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, when he attends K-State’s first football game of the season against South Dakota.
“I am going to get to do some tailgating,” Nelson said Friday. “That is something I haven’t been able to do in like 12 years. It is something you really miss, and I look forward to doing it again.”
Nelson is technically in Manhattan as part of a star-studded class of former K-State players set to be inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor. He will join quarterback Michael Bishop, running back Darren Sproles and defensive back Clarence Scott on the field for Saturday’s ceremony. But Nelson seems most eager to simply blend in with K-State fans.
Not an easy task, considering he was the biggest star in the room Friday at a media event that Bishop and Sproles also attended.
Still, he wants to try and be a typical fan, at least for one day. Who knows? He might succeed. On Friday, he arrived at K-State in his white GMC pickup truck with the words “Eat Beef” and a purple Powercat displayed prominently on the front license plate. You could see farming equipment in the bed. That should blend in perfectly.
“We will find out how it goes at about 3 p.m. when I start tailgating,” Nelson said. “We are just hoping to hang out. Let me tell you, it is the biggest thing I have missed about football. … A few years ago we were able to do it when we came back for a game, and now everyone in my family is like, ‘We have got to tailgate.’ All right. I am up for it.”
This is what it looks like when a local kid makes it big.
Nelson grew up in Riley and joined K-State as a walk-on defensive back. He left his mark after converting to receiver and catching 122 passes for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns — all single-season K-State records — in 2007. That team was far from memorable, winning five games. Yet, he is arguably the most popular K-State football alum on the planet.
Bishop was the star quarterback in 1998 when the Wildcats beat Nebraska for the first time in a generation and won their first 11 games. Sproles led the Wildcats to perhaps their biggest victory, a 35-7 beatdown of then No. 1 Oklahoma that clinched the school’s first Big 12 championship. He still leads K-State in career rushing yards and makes big plays in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Both were Heisman finalists.
But Nelson is the top receiver in Green Bay’s pass-happy offense, which commands respect. It also doesn’t hurt that he donates money to K-State. The football locker room bears his name.
“I remember when Jordy came to K-State as a walk-on safety,” Sproles said. “And now he is one of the top receivers in the NFL. That is all hard work.”
When Nelson tore his ACL on a fluke play in which he was not touched during the Packers’ second preseason game, some fans were so upset that they pointed to his injury as reason to abolish the NFL preseason.
“Honestly, the way it happened has made it easier,” Nelson said. “Not necessarily the preseason game part, but the no-contact part. It could have been the next day in practice when it happened. I have made that move a million times. For whatever reason, the knee gave out that time.
“So I am not worried about it. I think the preseason games are necessary. To me, college has preseason games. That is why teams play certain teams at the beginning of the year. Everyone wants to build up to a season. It is hard to just be thrown into it. That part hasn’t bothered me at all. It is just that something that small could lead to such a big problem.”
Nelson was distraught when the injury occurred. He has played football for 18 years, and this is the first time he has missed an entire season due to injury. The thought of watching Green Bay games instead of playing in them almost brought him to tears.
Injuries are part of the game, though. He realizes that now. He will be back next season, and he expects to return stronger.
“You would rather be healthy and playing, but I am in a good mindset,” Nelson said. “I am ready to get (surgery) over with.... It will be a long journey, but it is something that I am actually looking forward to. I have accepted the challenge for it, and, hopefully, will come back better.”
The recovery process continues Sunday. It can wait until he has had his fun being a college football fan.
South Dakota at Kansas State
▪ WHEN: 6:10 p.m. Saturday
▪ WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
▪ TV: None (webcast at K-StateHD.tv)
Three story lines
▪ 1. Kicking concern: Matthew McCrane is coming off a stellar freshman season in which he made 18 of 19 field goals, but K-State coach Bill Snyder expressed concern about his recent form this week, describing McCrane as “inconsistent.”
“We have a lot of faith in him,” Snyder said. “We have a lot of faith in (backup kicker) Jack Cantele. Both of them have had their moments in camp, where they have not been quite as effective as they have been in the past.”
▪ 2. Fighting nerves: Jesse Ertz showed nerves when he started at quarterback in K-State’s spring game and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on his opening series. Looking back, he blamed the mistake on jitters. He hopes a cooler head wil help him early against South Dakota.
▪ 3. Get loud: K-State players expect a louder atmosphere than usual Saturday inside Snyder Family Stadium. Sound bounces off the new Vanier Football Complex on the north end of the stadium at a much higher rate than the old complex.