A year and seven days ago, a 6-6 235-pound offensive lineman from Sumter, South Carolina, a small town of about 40,000 people, committed to former Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield and was set to become a Mountaineer during the December signing period.
App State is a respected program. They went 11-2 and won the Sun Belt for the third consecutive year in 2019 and gave Penn State a scare, but fell to the Nittany Lions in overtime. From all accounts, it appeared that he was headed to Boone, North Carolina for his college years.
That is until the Hurricanes came calling. On December 7th of last year, Nelson officially visited Coral Gables after an evaluation by Miami’s previous staff landed him a very late offer, especially because he was set to enroll early at his school of choice.
The rest is history. Less than a week later, Nelson flipped his commitment to Mark Richt, Stacy Searels, and the Hurricanes and signed his letter of intent just a few days after that.
By January, the Hurricanes and their brand new offensive staff, who had no impact on Nelson’s recruitment, had themselves a diamond in the rough. They just didn't know it yet.
“I was thinking that I was really going to have to work and that I was probably going to be tossed around a little bit” Nelson said to the media after practice today.
They were extremely realistic expectations. He wasn't a nationally renowned player by any stretch. His offer list read: Appalachian State, Campbell University, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Western Kentucky.
But despite the odds strongly against him, Zion Nelson put on almost 60 pounds since his arrival on campus and is set to play arguably the most important position on the offensive line as a true freshman.
The now 290-pound left tackle is up just 4% body fat, from 10% to 14%, despite the massive weight gain and said he's been “working very hard, trying to be the best I can.”
Apart from his unquestionably great work ethic, lining up against DE Jonathan Garvin every practice has helped make him a better player.
“It’s definitely a struggle because he's definitely a great player...I need to be very specific with my technique” Nelson said of Garvin and how he challenges him.
Starting a true freshman at left tackle is never the ideal situation, but if anybody has earned it’s the former unknown recruit out of Sumter, South Carolina.