As a senior at Mankato West (Minn) HS, Philip Nelson was one of the most-highly regarded quarterback prospects in the nation and named Mr. Football in Minnesota.
In fact, well-known recruiting guru Tom Lemming ranked him as the nation’s No. 2 Pro Style Quarterback, No. 40 overall player and National Sleeper of the Year in the Class of 2012.
The extremely talented signal-caller opted to “stay home” and play his college football for the University of Minnesota.
During his true freshman campaign, the highly-touted Nelson started the final seven games and displayed that immense talent. After a strong effort versus Purdue, he won Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors—the first Minnesota player to do so. In the Golden Gophers’ run-first attack, the 6’2”, 215-pounder passed for 873 yards and eight touchdowns while running 69 times for 184 yards.
The following year, the strong-armed Nelson played in 12 games—starting 9—and compiled 1,670 yards of total offense. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes for 1,306 yards and nine scores.
Seeking an opportunity to play in an offense that threw the ball more, Nelson opted to transfer to Rutgers following the 2013 season.
However, prior to playing a game for the Scarlet Knights, he was involved in a highly-publicized assault case in downtown Mankato in May of 2014.
Nelson was initially charged with a pair of felonies, but more detailed surveillance video surfaced and medical expert Dr. Daniel Davis’ stated that former Minnesota State football player Isaac Kolstad’s injuries were caused by Trevor Shelley, not Nelson.
This evidence and testimony helped reduce Nelson’s charges to a misdemeanor, which resulted in him receiving 100 hours of community service.
Rutgers had parted ways with the quarterback as soon as the criminal charges came and didn’t wait for the trial.
Thus, Nelson didn’t know where or IF his football career would continue when the Scarlet Knights’ head coach Kyle Flood had dismissed him.
After a year of searching for a new home, it appeared that he had found one in Sun Belt member South Alabama. However, that opportunity fell through and the process started over.
Some family friends encouraged Nelson to reach out to East Carolina. The former Golden Gophers’ starter did so and after McNeill had done his homework, he granted the quarterback a walk-on spot.
Since he had sat out the 2014 season and 2014-15 academic year, ECU coaches had hoped Nelson would be granted immediate eligibility.
While that didn’t happen, he is just thankful that former ECU coach Ruffin McNeill provided him with his long sought opportunity to continue playing football.
“It was definitely a tough time, but I always had faith there was a rhyme and a reason for everything,” he said. “After going through everything and keeping my faith strong, I just felt like I was going to have another opportunity. I had heard about East Carolina from some family friends, and they pointed me in this direction. I owe the world to Coach Ruff for giving me an opportunity last year.”
As a member of the scout team last fall, Nelson showcased the ability that had earned him widespread recognition and a starting role for 16 games during his two seasons at Big Ten member Minnesota.
Nelson and current UVA starting quarterback Kurt Benkert competed for the starting role during spring ball.
Shortly after the annual Purple-Gold game (ECU Spring Game)—which marked the conclusion of spring practice, Benkert announced his intentions to transfer.
Nelson was believed to be the frontrunner for the job, but the decision by Benkert—who had already graduated—removed all doubt as to who would be No. 1 on the depth chart entering fall camp.
ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery, offensive coordinator/QBs coach Tony Petersen, and teammates raved about Nelson’s leadership. They talked about his commitment to maximizing his potential and making the team better whether it was studying film, working hard in the weight room or getting extra throws in.
While many were excited about the prospects, there were those who were skeptical.
However, Nelson’s performance through two weeks has likely silenced most, if not all, doubters.
In his Pirate debut versus Western Carolina, he was a stellar 28-of-32 for 398 yards and five touchdowns (and he did that in just over 2.5 quarters).
The “Blonde Bomber”, as he was dubbed by 94.3 “The Game”—an FM radio station in Greenville, NC, followed that up with a gutsy effort against rival NC State. Nelson, who was hurried and knocked down several times throughout the game, battled through some adversity to connect on 33 of his 43 throws while throwing for 297 yards and a touchdown.
Through two games, the Mankato, MN-native has completed an amazing 81.3 percent of his passes and thrown for 695 yards. Nelson has tossed six touchdown passes and has been picked off just one time.
Unfortunately, this will be Nelson’s lone season with the ECU program. However, if he continues to perform the way he has thus far, he will definitely create his spot amongst the all-time great Pirate quarterbacks.