JOHNSTON, Iowa — Matt Nelson looks forward to a healthy dose of work this summer.
After undergoing three surgeries in a little over a year, anything healthy appeals to the Iowa defensive lineman who joined his teammates in returning to campus this week for the start of summer work.
“Things feel good and I’m anxious to get back out there,’’ Nelson said after helping his teammates lead a youth clinic last month. “I’ve been cleared to go at it full speed and I’m looking forward to it.’’
It’s been a long, but busy, few months for Nelson since he suffered a torn labrum late in Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl victory over Boston College on Dec. 27, one of few things that didn’t turn out well for the Hawkeyes on a frigid night at Yankee Stadium.
He spent more time in the hospital, undergoing surgery to repair the tear in his left shoulder and working through another rehab process.
He spent more time studying to one day hopefully return to a hospital in a different role, given additional time away from team activities to study for his Medical College Admission Test.
A biology and human physiology major, Nelson has hopes of beginning medical school classes this fall if he passes his MCAT in late June.
He also found time during the practices he attended to help his teammates, working with Sam Brincks and Chauncey Golston as they worked through the challenges of making the same position move that Nelson worked through a year ago.
“He really helped the guys try and learn how to play inside because he went through that same transition,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I can’t say enough about his engagement, but that’s the kind of kid and the kind of teammate he is.’’
Nelson didn’t mind, and welcomed the opportunity to help.
He said defensive tackle Nathan Bazata spent a lot of time working with him as he adjusted to playing inside last season, helping defensive line coach Reese Morgan make the transition smoother for the 6-foot-8, 295-pound Cedar Rapids native.
“The time they spent with me made a big difference in getting me settled into a new position and the nuances that go along with it,’’ Nelson said.
Nelson figures he benefited in helping his teammates adjust as well, having a role at a time when he was unable to participate on the field.
“It was pretty discouraging to be out dealing with an injury again, but the guys keep you involved,’’ he said. “They were coming up, asking questions. They were trying to keep me mentally into it. That does make a difference and help a lot.’’
Now, he’s anxious to return to working to grow his game at the tackle spot he now considers home.
His move inside allowed Iowa to build interior depth on its defensive front that again figures to be among strengths of the team as it works toward to the start of the 2018 season.
Since making his first start at defensive tackle midway through Iowa’s 8-5 season last fall, Nelson has become part of that strength and he now finds himself as part of a collection of returning starters that includes Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson at the end positions.
It took some time for Nelson to adjust to that realization, adapting to the lower pad level needed for him to create necessary leverage on the opposing offensive linemen he now faces.
“Things happen a little faster and things are a lot tighter inside than they were at end,’’ Nelson said. “Outside, you have more room to roam. That’s not the case inside so it puts a premium on quick decisions and quick movement.’’