By Jay Skurski
David Nelson has started on his road to recovery.
The Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver left Tuesday for Pensacola, Fla., where he’ll undergo surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday. The operation will be performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews at the Andrews-Paulos Research and Education Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla., outside Pensacola.
From there, Nelson will return to his hometown of Dallas on Saturday, where he’ll begin rehabilitation Monday at Athletes Performance Institute.
“My thought process is I want to go somewhere where I have someone who’s going to completely 100 percent focus on me,” Nelson said this week, speaking to The Buffalo News for the first time since being hurt in the season opener Sept. 9 in New York.
“Rightfully so, the focus here is to get guys ready for Sunday, so I felt like if I was going to go to the training room, I’d see the trainers and they’d say ‘here’s what you need to do, go do it’ and then they’d go work on Fred [Jackson] or whoever to get him ready for Sunday, which is what should happen. I’m not complaining about that at all, I think that’s the right way to do it. But for me, I just need to go off site somewhere and get ready to come back.”
Nelson watched from the press box Sunday as the Bills thoroughly dominated the Kansas City Chiefs. While he cheered the result, the circumstances were rather miserable.
“Without a doubt [Sunday] was the hardest part of this yet. You get put on IR and they put you in the press box, so you’re not even on the field,” he said. “You can’t feel the emotion; you can’t celebrate with your teammates. … It’s devastating, it really is, because you put so much work in. Coming into the season you do so much and then to only get three quarters of play, and now I’ve got to sit there and watch.”
Nelson was hurt early in the fourth quarter of the season opener. Running a 10-yard out route down the left side of the field – a play in which hew as actually the intended receiver -- Nelson planted on his right foot, cutting 90 degrees to his left. As he was planting, Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson had a hand under Nelson’s jersey, near his shoulder pads.
“I was trying to plant, he was going that way, I was going this way and my foot got caught in the turf and it just popped,” Nelson said. “I knew right away. The doctors knew. It wasn’t a dirty play by any means. I know Kyle and he would never do anything like that on purpose. It was just an accident.”
Nelson missed the last game of his rookie year in 2010 because of a minor injury, but the 25-year-old has otherwise been healthy throughout college and his professional career.
A major rehab will be a new challenge.
“It’s something that in a way I’m actually excited about. I relish the opportunity to take up a challenge. I came into the league undrafted. I kind of worked my way up in college to be a starter and get some playing time there and I worked my way into this league and I enjoy the challenge,” he said. “I enjoy an obstacle. I enjoy the adversity to say it’s going to be a long journey, but I’m excited about it. That’s the way I have to approach it. I can’t sit here and feel sorry for myself.”
There was some time after the injury, though, that Nelson took it particularly tough.
“I did have a feeling of just complete devastation, feeling like I let my guys down, my team down, the city down, my family down. I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself -- if the season doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to -- it’s my fault, which I shouldn’t do because obviously not one person can control a team,” he said. “I never really said why me, but I was really just devastated because it’s the game I love to play.”
Nelson’s faith is central to his life. Not surprisingly, he’s turned to that after being hurt.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that’s gotten me through it. It’s having that foundation. A lot of times what happens with people, they’ll go through a trial or tribulation in their life and they’ll try to look for something to get them through it. Whether it be family, a drug, alcohol, they try to find something to get them through it and they rely on that. Luckily for me, I’ve had that foundation,” he said. “Just to give you an instance, James I tells you to find pure joy in trials and tribulations. It’s God testing your patience. He’s making you a better person. … That obstacle, that challenge I’ve overcome, yeah, at the time it wasn’t fun, but now it’s made me a better person, it’s made me a better athlete, it’s made me a better father or son, whatever you’re going through. That’s something I rely on more than anything.”
In his own locker room, Nelson has found plenty of support and advice from teammates. Center Eric Wood, tight end Mike Caussin and linebacker Chris White all suffered ACL tears last season. Nelson has also talked with former teammate Lee Evans, who suffered the injury in college.
“He was telling me you’re going to hit this plateau, and it’s going to get really frustrating and you’re going to feel you’re taking a step back,” Nelson said. “You’ve just got to keep pushing through it and keep pushing through it and you’ll get better, and then you’ll plateau again. If I wouldn’t have talked to him, I would have never known that. Those guys are going to be great tools for me. They’ve been great so far without me even having to ask.
“The hardest part about it is to not be there with them and go through the grind of a season. I’ve been here since Chan got in, so I know how hard we’ve worked to get to this point. And now we’re at the point, this team is for real. They’re going to do some great things this year, and it’s going to eat me alive not being a part of that.”