Nelson transforms body, in line to start against UF

Nelson transforms body, in line to start against UF

Stefan Adams
As a vastly undersized offensive lineman, it was common expectation for true freshman Zion Nelson to sit out his first college season, take a redshirt, and get his body where it needed to be to compete as a lineman at the Power 5 level.

“I was thinking that I was going to really have to work, get tossed around a little bit,” Nelson said.

After all, he began his senior season of high school last August at 235 pounds and was a little-known Appalachian State commitment. The Canes decided to take a chance on his potential after missing on some of their top targets on the OL, signing Nelson during the early signing period with the thought he might become a contributor one or two years down the road.

Nelson enrolled early at Miami in January, arriving at 240 pounds and headed straight for David Feeley's strength and conditioning program. From there, he just started eating.

"I eat anything,” Nelson said. “I was eating as much as I could.”

Nelson broke down his meal plan since he’s been at Miami: 4 large meals per day with snacks in between each one.

“Breakfast in the morning would be an omelet, sweet potatoes, some juice," Nelson said. "Lunchtime, whatever they have - PF Changs sometimes. For dinner training table, most of the time they have grilled chicken breast and pasta. And at night, a lot of the time I’d go to Subway and drink the Gatorade shakes they’d give me. I’d just grab snacks as I wanted, take them home.”

7 months later and Nelson says he has packed on 50 pounds since arriving at UM; he is up to 290 pounds at 6’5” and he has increased his body fat from 10 percent to 14 percent. Those closest to him have certainly noticed the change.

“My family says I am a whole different person now,” Nelson said.

But he didn’t stop there.

Not only has Nelson gotten his body to an acceptable place for an ACC lineman, he has also performed at a high-level on the field. Nelson has been a fixture at first-team left tackle for Miami since fall camp started and is on track to start the opener against the Florida Gators in two and a half weeks.

“I think it is going pretty good, but my spot is never guaranteed, so I have to keep working for it,” Nelson said. “I have just worked really hard and I’m trying to do everything the best that I can.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t still have his difficulties. In practices, Nelson is going up every day against junior DE Jon Garvin, who is already considered one of the ACC's best returning pass rushers after recording 17 TFL in 2018, good for 3rd best in the conference.

"Everything is at a higher pace… It's definitely a struggle, he's definitely a great player," Nelson said of Garvin. "He helps me be very specific with my technique."

Miami’s offensive line has been much-maligned for mediocre play in recent years, but Nelson is confident a new coach and new blood will help turn things around in 2019 for the unit.

“It's coming together - we still have things to work on,” Nelson said. "We as a whole O-Line are coming together and working.”

Of course, it’s never ideal to have to start a true freshman on day 1 at any position, especially at left tackle. What are Nelson’s thoughts on the opening week matchup vs. the Gators?

“By the time we get there, I’ll definitely be ready,” Nelson said.

Comments (223)

Love this:

“I think it is going pretty good, but my spot is never guaranteed, so I have to keep working for it,” Nelson said.

He had to work his *** off to get where he is, especially starting off as a "project" player that no one expected to see the field for at least a year or two. He knows he has to keep working his *** off to keep his position. Sounds like a motivated, mature kid.
It's crazy having a True Freshman starting at LT, especially seeing our first game is the gators, but I will trust the coaches on this one just means he's out performing the other tackles
A true freshman starting at LT is a very scary thought.

Definitely--but it would be a lot more scary if we were seemingly reeling at the position trying anyone and everyone in order to find a solution (see RT). Instead, Zion has shown up, worked hard, and seemingly earned the 1st team LT spot. He has not given it up since he got a hold of it in spring. That's the type of context that makes a freshman OT starting a little less scary.
The whole Zion thing makes my head spin...dude was 235 pounds as a senior in HS and he's likely going to be protecting our QB's blind side on the first snap on 8/24....just crazy. Really a testament to hard work!
Nelson likely going up against Zuniga who is one of Florida's better players. I gone be focused on that battle.