CEDAR FALLS — It took only one play into the UNI football team’s season-opener at Iowa State for former Springville prep and current Panther red-shirt junior Elias Nissen to realize the 2017 campaign was going to be different than anything he had experienced at the collegiate level.
“We have a new offensive coordinator and he said coming in he wanted to use tight ends more in the offense this season,” said Nissen. “When the first play of the season against Iowa State in Ames was a pass to me, I thought, ok, I could get used to this.”
Nissen had a breakout campaign finishing the 2017 season hauling in a total of 17 passes for 204 yards while scoring four touchdowns for the Panthers, who tallied an 8-5 overall record this past fall.
“Up until this point of my football career here at UNI, I had mainly been used as a blocking tight end,” Nissen said. “But the coaches showed confidence in me as someone they wanted to include in the offense this season, and I didn’t want to let them or my teammates down. I worked hard to get to this point and I wanted to make sure I was ready when my number was called.”
Nissen didn’t let them down, and was more than ready for his opportunity scoring a career-high three touchdowns against Western Illinois on Homecoming back on Oct. 7.
“That was a blast,” he said. “All my touchdowns for the year kind of came in a bunch right there. I scored three against Western Illinois and had my first touchdown just a week earlier against Southern Illinois.
“It was kind of a bittersweet day against Western though. It was fun to get the hat-trick, but it would have been even better if we had won the game.”
UNI dropped a 39-28 final that day and were sitting with a 2-3 overall record and wondering where their campaign was headed.
“That wasn’t where we thought we should have been at that point of the season,” Nissen said. “Actually, it was far from where we thought we should be, so Coach Farley started this climbing the pyramid thing talking to us about taking one step at a time and grinding through October and November.
“It worked. We only lost one game the rest of the way and headed into the playoffs playing some of our best football.”
While the team played their way through plenty of adversity this season, so did Nissen, who had to deal with several injuries.
“I hurt my knee against South Dakota (Nov. 4) and had to miss the Missouri State game the next week,” he said. “But I wanted back on the field. With the type of knee injury that it was, our trainers were able to give me a brace and I was able to come back and play against Indiana State in our regular season finale and both of our playoff games.”
Nissen suffered MCL and meniscus injuries in his knee as well as having to deal with a torn labrum in his hip and in his shoulder.
The Panthers dropped a season-ending 37-22 final Saturday, Nov. 2, at sixth-ranked South Dakota State in the FCS (Division I-AA) playoff second-round.
Nissen had two receptions totaling 18 yards in the contest.
“It’s tough to beat a good team twice,” said Nissen, as the Panthers blew out the Jackrabbits 38-18 back on Oct. 14, in Brookings. “Offense was just hard to come by all game long. South Dakota State had double our time of possession and that was pretty much the difference in the game.”
With the off-season looming and his final season as a college football player ahead next fall, Nissen has clear goals for the 2018 campaign.
“Getting healthy is first and foremost,” he said. “I’m not sure what actions will need to be taken in the off-season to get me healthy, but whatever they are I’ll be ready for them.
“I can’t believe next year will be my last year here at UNI. In a way it feels like I’ve been here forever and at the same time it feels like I just got here, too. We’re all going to work hard in the off-season to try and get this program back to competing for championships.
“That is the expectation here, and I think we can do it next season, too.”