‘It’s Just A Burner’: Football’s Nelson Went From Injured to Invaluable

By Corey D. Smith

Fired up and ready to go was how Morehouse College defensive back Edward Nelson started the 2017 season. The team was headed into their third week, up against Central State, and Nelson already had his maneuvers down pat. Sure of himself, he entered the game with the same confidence he took into every game.

“I was just ready to go and get it over with,” Nelson said. “Central knew what was up!”

Little did he know, this would be the game that gave him his first college injury.

The game took place on Aug. 16, 2017, in Wilberforce, Ohio. Nelson recalls tucking his head into his chest and running full force toward his opponent. This moment, he remembers, was pivotal to his college career. It was the moment that could have cost him the ability to participate in his favorite sport and even more importantly the movement of his limbs.

Nelson remembers blacking out after the hit was made. After being pulled to the sideline, he was, of course, asked by the coaching staff and medics if he was alright.

Like most players, he responded, “I’m good,” and wanted to continue playing.

Upon returning to Atlanta the next day, Nelson remembers having a sharp pain run through his neck.

“I ended up going to the hospital because I felt off,” Nelson said. Once there, he received an X-ray which showed that he had indeed fractured his neck/shoulder area and suffered a minor concussion.

The particular fracture Nelson endured is known as a cervical burner (scientifically called a Brachial Plexus Injury).


According to Midwest Bone & Joint Institute, “The usual mechanism of injury occurs when a direct blow or hard hit to the top of your shoulder pushes it down at the same time your head is forced to the opposite side.”

Immediately, players feel a rush of hot pain go from their neck through their arm, which is where the nickname “burner” comes from. The Brachial Plexus is a network of nerves in the neck/shoulder area, and its branches form the nerves to the arm, forearm and hand, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Unfortunately, cervical burners such as this are common for many football players, and they can have a lasting impact, whether immediately or over time. The more a player ignores the pain, the more damage can be done.

“Because things like this are so normal, we are fully prepared to handle them, so long as the players are honest about their symptoms,” associate athletic trainer Craig Boyd said. “But no matter how normal these injuries, we do our best to promote safe practices and execution within our players so that we can avoid these hiccups.”

Fortunately for Nelson, this injury proved not to be life-threatening and he was able to complete the rest of the season.

Recharged and energized after a full recovery, Nelson stood to be a force to be reckoned with in the 2018 season. He was a critical contributor in what would be considered “one of the best starts in school history in over 97 years” according to Maroon Tiger head coach Rich Freeman, whose team won its first six games.

The Maroon Tigers ended the season 7-3 and third in the SIAC East Division with many more accolades to show for their grit and strength throughout the season. Nelson finished second on the team in total tackles (55), first in tackles and yards for losses (13 for 65 yards lost), and first in sacks (6).

Nelson is thankful that his coaches and teammates believed in him enough to put more leadership pressure on him.

“It [the concussion] accelerated me into leadership more than I expected,” Nelson said. “When the game got tough, people expected me to step up.”

That is exactly what he did, being selected as Morehouse’s special team player of the week against Alabama State University and defensive player of the week against both Lane College and Fort Valley State University.

Nelson has proven to be a great asset to the team, fluctuating between starting positions since his college career began and became a full-time starter toward the latter part of last season.

“Ed is a special player for us, no question,” Freeman said. “He has had his health problems, but he came out of that pretty good and did a stellar job last season.”

Nelson entered Morehouse on full academic scholarship as a part of the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which covers his cost of education all the way through to his Ph.D.

“He’s a very gifted student,” Freeman said of the African-American Studies major. “Pretty much a genius right out of high school.”

Nonetheless, football keeps Nelson active and engaged with the college, two things he is proud to be a part of.

As Nelson moves into his senior season, the expectation of leadership has only grown stronger. But Nelson is ready to take on any challenge whether on the field or off.

“Coming up on senior season we’re expecting bigger things,” Nelson said.

The support of the coaching staff and his teammates has afforded him a bond that motivates him to keep doing all that he can to push beyond any challenge and bring home as many wins as possible before he walks across the stage to graduate in 2020.

“Although he may not be recognized outside of campus, we definitely know his worth here,” Freeman said. “I think next year will definitely be the year he receives proper credit.”

Nelson now ensures that every play he makes is well thought out and executed properly. He has not been – and doesn’t plan to be – injured again.