University of Minnesota quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski remembers distinctly the day that Mankato’s own Phil Nelson became the starting quarterback for the Gophers.
He, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, head coach Jerry Kill and Nelson sat in a room and talked over the decision. It was midway through the 2012 season and Coach Kill wanted to be sure all the pertinent people were involved in the decision-making process.
The team has been struggling at the quarterback position and the coaching staff had seen enough of the then freshman Nelson in practice to consider a change at that spot.
“The coaches were for it but Coach Kill wanted to be sure Nelson was on board, too.” Zebrowski said. “The first thing he said was: “It’s about time. I’m ready.’ We were off and running at that point.”
The quarterback change meant that Nelson would have to forfeit his redshirt season and the clock would start ticking on his collegiate career. Today, a season-and-a-half removed from the decision, everybody involved believes it was the right move to make.
“I definitely thought it was the right move,” Nelson said. “I started the last seven games of the season and that was great experience for me coming back this year. They gave me an opportunity and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
At 5 p.m. Friday, Nelson will lead the 8-4 Gophers on to the field at the Texas Bowl in Houston. He and his teammates will play 6-6 Syracuse before a national TV audience on ESPN. That’s a pretty good season-ending gig considering the Gophers were picked to finish last in the Big Ten this year.
Nelson grew up in Mankato and starred for a Mankato West football team where he owns just about every significant passing record. He has not been able to post similar numbers in college, at least not yet, but there are a lot of factors for that.