When the Hurricanes received a commitment from Zion Nelson just six days before the early signing day period, many fans were confused. Prior to the commitment, many had never heard his name linked to Miami. Even more, confusion came after seeing that he was an extremely undersized offensive tackle.
Patience Paid Off With Zion Nelson
The former Appalachian State commitment had only a few offers with Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina being the only other FBS offers. Due to being underweight, he was figured to be a redshirt candidate at best. With Miami being his only power five offer, it made sense that he flipped his commitment. At the time he was recruited by Stacy Searles, who was the offensive line coach under Mark Richt.
In less than two weeks after signing with Miami, Searles would be fired after Richt’s retirement and Manny Diaz took over as head coach. Nelson would graduate high school early to be coached by Butch Barry, a former NFL assistant coach.
When Nelson enrolled at the University of Miami, he only weighed 240 pounds his body would transform in the first four months on campus. By the end of Spring football, Nelson weighed in at 270 pounds and the chatter of him possibly starting grew. Coaches were hesitant of a true freshman starting against the Florida Gators, just months after coming in underweight. However, that changed when Nelson showed back up in the summer at 290 pounds. In just a few short months, he gained over 50 pounds while maintaining his athleticism.
The weight gain gave Nelson the confidence he needed to compete. His first season would show just how far he had to go. In his first start against Florida, he went head to head with two future NFL draft picks. While Nelson struggled to stop sacks and committed several penalties. Yet even as he struggled the Hurricanes maintained confidence publicly and knew his future would be bright. Nelson started all 13 games at left tackle as a true freshman, on an offensive line that led the nation in sacks allowed.
Coming Into His Own
The Hurricanes would again make another move on the offensive line, this time bringing in coach Garin Justice. One of the observations he saw from the previous season was that it was unfair to have Nelson starting last season. Justice explained how tough it was for a true freshman to compete. And youth was a big reason for his struggles. It was plain to see that Nelson was outmatched in certain situations. Justice knew that he would have to take a different approach.
It was no surprise that in game one of his second year, he was not the starter at left tackle. The Hurricanes knew that allowing Zion to progress behind the scenes without the pressure of playing could be beneficial later on. That lasted all but two games as he would take back his starting left tackle position against Florida State. Miami would blow out the Seminoles by 42 points, in a game where Miami gained over 500 yards.
The Hurricanes after seeing the improvement knew that Nelson needed to be in the starting lineup. He would go on to start the final six games of the year while only allowing two sacks. The growth from leading the nation in sacks allowed to now only two sacks has put Nelson on NFL radars. Going into his third season, Nelson has 20 starts under his belt and is now carrying around 310 pounds.
Future 1st Round pick?
The buzz around Nelson is that he could possibly be the first offensive tackle selected. In a recent mock draft by Todd McShay, he had Nelson being selected fifth overall. Although it is very early, the growth from an undersized offensive tackle to a possible first-round pick shows the amount of improvement. Many people thought that he would not be ready to play until his third season. Even after having multiple position coaches and changing techniques, Nelson has excelled enough to catch the NFL’s eye.