The pain remains, but Jeff Nelson is in a better place — home

Twenty-three months and five surgeries later, the pain remains. There are days he can be up and about, but there are days when the leg just won't take it. For Jeff Nelson, whose coaching career was put on hold by the most horrific sideline accident ever seen around these parts, the long process continues.

But while he still has a lot of physical healing ahead, Nelson's mental state has made a strong recovery since resigning as Bethel's coach and moving back home to South Carolina. He lives with his parents, who take care of him and kick him in the butt when needed. And he's engaged.

"The pain is still there, but my spirits are better," he said. "I'm in a good place. I'm not saying up there wasn't good, but when you get to the nuts and bolts, it's all about family. I'm in a good place with my family. The good Lord's been good to me."

That might sound like an odd thing to say given the hand he was dealt on Oct. 23, 2010.

It was the eighth week of the season, and Bethel scored on its first play to lead Menchville 7-0. It was the Monarchs' ball, and they ran a jet sweep to the Bruins' sideline. The runner along with a couple of tacklers crashed into Nelson's knee, leaving it a mangled mess.

Nelson never passed out, though he wanted to. As he lay in agony, his shaken players were sent further down the sideline. A sheet was placed around him so those in the stands couldn't see.

The anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in Nelson's right knee were all shattered. The impact was so severe that it ruptured the peroneal nerve, which supplies movement to the lower leg and foot. Doctors told him they nearly had to amputate.

Even now, he still has nightmares and panic attacks. Whenever he watches a football game and sees a sweep go to the sideline, he can't escape thinking about it.

Because he was recently separated from his first wife, he was largely on his own save for a home-care aide and friends like Bubba and Edna Lee Hooker. The living room in his Hampton home was equipped with a hospital bed.

Last fall, Nelson took the title of "director of football operations" while Hooker was the head coach. Nelson attended every game, but he watched from a golf cart on the sideline. It worked well enough for the Bruins to get off to a 5-1 start and return to the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to Oscar Smith.

But last spring, Nelson decided he needed to make a change. Step one was returning home to Travelers Rest, S.C. — so named because it's between Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta, and that's where travelers would stop to rest.

His parents, Jerry and Teresa, and brother Kevin are caring. And demanding. They don't allow Nelson to take the easy path.

"They push me," he said. "They get me up and say, 'Let's go do stuff.' Sometimes, I wish they'd leave me alone."

That last comment comes with a laugh.

Nelson lives with his parents, who also own a rental house across the street. They're in the process of fixing that up, and Nelson will be moving in with his new wife.

Nelson has known Stacy Stewart for about 12 years, he says. They dated for a while but things didn't work out. But she saw a story about his injury online and contacted him. They began communicating, and when Nelson relocated to Travelers Rest, they started dating. She lives 40 minutes away in Anderson.

"She's a great lady," Nelson said.

She helps. They all help. Because frankly, Nelson needs all of it he can get.

"I still can't work more than four hours a day," he said. "If I stand up for 10 minutes, my leg goes numb. They did another nerve test on me, and they said, 'You're getting nothing out of this nerve.' I'm going to have to live with the pain. It'll be a part of my life."

If that wasn't enough, Nelson also is having problems with workers compensation, which he says stopped payments May 11 after he missed a doctor's appointment in Virginia. That came following his move to South Carolina.

"I had an appointment, and I had a flight scheduled, but my back hurt so much I couldn't come up," he said. "They never scheduled another appointment. They're trying to punish me for coming down here. That's been stressful, but I stick by my coming down here. It's all about moving forward."

Stephen Forbes, Nelson's attorney, said a hearing on Nelson's case has been scheduled for Nov. 9 in Hampton.

Now 40 and set to be a husband in two months, Nelson just wants to feel better. He knows some things, including the everyday stuff, will never be the same. But surely it can get a little better.

As for coaching, he's helping out at a local high school from his golf cart. He still loves it and he dreams of the day he can be a full-time head coach again. But he's also realistic enough to know that won't just happen.

"I'm a long way away from ever being a head coach again," he said. "This hasn't just affected teaching and coaching. It's affected my whole life.

"But I'm fighting through it. I have bad days, but at least I have somebody who can look at me and remind me I'm not the only person in the world who got hurt. Can't get away with much down here."