Nelson getting shot at starting role

Aug. 31—No guarantee existed that he'd continue one of the more interesting streaks in Penn State's football history when it came to ties to the Scranton area.

But Penn State coaches figured JB Nelson wouldn't be just another player standing on the sidelines this fall, waiting his turn.

After appearing in four games last season as a backup and working on just about every position along the offensive line, the former Lackawanna College standout seems set to take on a more significant role — and even keep the Lackawanna-to-State College pipeline going.

Nelson is expected to get his first start Saturday night when the No. 7 Nittany Lions open the 2023 campaign against West Virginia at Beaver Stadium.

Even though junior Landon Tengwall entered spring as the favorite to earn his starting job at left guard back after shoulder surgery ended his 2022 season, another injury-riddled summer put him back on the shelf. Tengwall hasn't been seen with the team during open practice or the team photo session earlier this month, and Nelson stepped in to get reps with the first team at his position.

That's no surprise to head coach James Franklin, who said he and the staff planned on Nelson playing "starter-type reps" once the games began, even if it meant coming off the bench. The fact that he won't have to means a Lackawanna grad will have a starting spot at Penn State for the fourth consecutive year.

"His habits are a lot better in terms of how he practices and how approaches meetings," Franklin said of Nelson. "You can make the argument that he may be our most physical offensive lineman. I know our defensive linemen have a ton of respect for him. We expected him to play a significant role either way."

Nelson's hard-nosed style opened eyes last season.

Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein spent Nelson's playing time judiciously anyway, making sure to preserve a redshirt season that gives him two seasons of eligibility. But the junior from Pittsburgh does have a dominant performance to build from as he heads into his first.

In a 45-14 win over Indiana Nov. 5, Nelson entered the game when starter Hunter Nourzad suffered an injury on the first play. The Nittany Lions went on to rush for four touchdowns, piling up 483 total yards of offense behind him.

"JB has been great," tackle and captain Olu Fashanu said. "I think everyone in the program knew how talented JB was. But I think this preseason, he took a very big step, not only in his development but everything all around. I, alongside everyone else in the program, am extremely excited for JB."

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