HERSHEY, Pa. – There was just one stop left on Andrew Nelson's journey from Hershey to State College, and it wasn't far from home.
The Penn State freshman-to-be from Hershey (Pa.) grew up watching Hershey High play home games at HersheyPark Stadium. When he became a Trojan, he played some home games there, too.
Saturday night, he was back for one final farewell.
Nelson played left tackle for Pennsylvania in the 56th Big 33 Classic, a game in which Pennsylvania never trailed in toppling Maryland, 58-27, at HersheyPark Stadium.
Afterward, he signed autographs for the fans who dotted the field where he helped maul the right end of Maryland's defensive line for a Pennsylvania first-half touchdown hours earlier. In a week, he'll head to University Park, where weight lifting, dorm living and academic coursework will begin.
There was little difficult about Saturday evening's contest, a game where Pennsylvania amassed 131 yards on the ground and 266 though the air. Nelson admits the transition from Hershey to PSU may be tough initially, though nothing he can't overcome.
"Honestly, I don't think it's hit me yet. I think this week of the Big 33 helped me prepared for college a little bit, being away from home and doing more things on my own. But it definitely hasn't hit me yet because I'm a big-time family guy," Nelson said. "I really don't think it will hit me until I'm there for about a month, but I'm excited.
"I don't know anybody that wouldn't be excited for this situation, but I can't wait for it. For me, it will probably be the family thing, and being on my own."
Nelson has long been integrating parts of PSU strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald's program into his daily workout regimen, often doing it at a local gym with Lower Dauphin (Hummelstown, Pa.) product Jimmy Marks, who will attend St. Francis.
Doing Fitzgerald's full program will be a big adjustment, though.
"I'm sure Coach Fitz's workouts are going to be impossibly hard," Nelson said. "I'm not worried about that the most, but I'm sure they'll be difficult."
Walking off his home turf for the last time, Nelson talked about what excites him most about Penn State, and the list is voluminous. Still, there are a few things in particular that stand out to him.
"It's just been a dream come true; that's the only way I can describe it," he said. "It's all so surreal for me. When I was playing, even my sophomore year playing on this field, I never imagined I would be going to Penn State. You watch those guys on TV, and you're like, ‘Oh my gosh, these guys are freaking animals.'
"Since I started playing football, I wanted to be a Penn State player. So that that dream is actually coming true is just surreal, and awesome."
The workout plan has helped him beef up his 6-foot-6 frame to 295 pounds, and that's exactly where Penn State offensive line coach Mac McWhorter wants him to be upon arrival at University Park. McWhorter has told Nelson he can see him becoming a 320-pounder before his college career is complete.
Speaking of McWhorter, Nelson says he can't wait to see what all he learns from a man who helped lead Texas to a national title in 2005 with a bruising offensive line.
He isn't opposed to a redshirt year, though he's unsure whether or not that will happen. He'll go with whatever the staff suggests.
"Absolutely. I'm a team player; if they don't want me to redshirt this year and need me, I completely understand," Nelson said. "But personally, I'd almost rather get that year of lifting, putting weight on and getting some extra mass.
"Whatever happens, it's all right. I'm just excited to get going."