MINNEAPOLIS - Gophers quarterback Phillip Nelson has burst on the scene the past two weeks and during that time the hard throwing freshman has looked anything but young.
"I just kind of came out and played like I always do," Nelson said after Saturday's game. "I know I've said this before, but once you start playing it's just like any other game."
While his performance at TCF Bank Stadium last weekend may have surprised some, for those who witnessed him doing those same things a year ago at Mankato West, it was never an if he could do it, but when.
"I always knew that he'd be a great player up there," says Mankato West Senior offensive lineman Conner Wanderscheid. "He always plays well in big games."
"I left him a voicemail, 'I have no doubt you're going to be a champion Big Ten quarterback,'" says Mankato West Head Coach Mark Esche. "He's just doing it earlier than I expected."
Mankato West head coach Mark Esche should know. He had Phillip Nelson has a starter at quarterback for the better part of three seasons, where he set records in nearly every statistical category.
But stats are one thing, it's the poise that Nelson possesses that Esche says makes him great.
"Before his first section championship in 2009," Esche recalls. "He came up and asked, 'What do you do when you're really nervous?' So we had a talk about confidence."
Phillip's confidence has served him well with the Gophers, but this year is not the first time he's been one of the youngest guys in the huddle. In 2008, Nelson, then a highly touted high school freshman, took over an older scarlet offense for just one game, gaining more than just yardage.
"We had not seen any freshman that had that kind of talent level," recalls Michael Richter an assistant coach at Mankato West and former teammate of Philip Nelson's. "You know we could have had our senior quarterback go down for the whole season and it would have been just fine because we have this kid and he knows exactly what he is doing."
Now he is turning heads at the U of M, but just an hour and a half south he is turning allegiances.
While former teammates may still root for other teams, when Philip plays they all turn into Gophers fans.
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