Gophers move forward with freshmen

Published 9:11am Wednesday, October 24, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — When Philip Nelson was picked as Minnesota’s starting quarterback last week, the decision wasn’t simply a quick fix to stabilize an injury-affected position.

Sure, coach Jerry Kill was weary of the uncertainty the Gophers had dealt with since MarQueis Gray first sprained his left knee and ankle in the Sept. 15 game against Western Michigan. Max Shortell hurt his neck on Oct. 13 during the loss to Northwestern, and Gray aggravated his ankle injury.

Nelson wasn’t merely the healthiest option, though. He’s the prize recruit who might not only give the Gophers their best chance the rest of the year but will benefit next season from the bonus playing time against Big Ten competition.

“We wouldn’t pull a redshirt if we weren’t going to play him,” Kill said, explaining the decision to give the freshman from Mankato the job for good.

Some fans fretted over the potential waste of eligibility. Had Nelson been redshirted this year, he could’ve taken over as the starter next season and kept the spot through 2016. Now he’ll be a senior in 2015 instead. No, Nelson can’t break Adam Weber’s program record of 50 games started, but he could come close if he avoids injuries and helps lead the Gophers to bowls.

“It’s really exciting to think about the future, but we really want to win right now, too,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “We feel like we can do that, and we’re really close to being a really good team. It’s just a matter of not playing just halves or quarters. We’ve got to play a full game.”