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Continued: Philip Nelson's sudden fall from playmaker to pariah

  • Article by: CURT BROWN and JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: May 17, 2014 - 11:05 PM

A second man charged with assault, Trevor Shelley, then allegedly punched Kolstad, whose head hit the pavement with a thud as he collapsed, witnesses said. Nelson pushed past others and kicked Kolstad, who was limp and defenseless, according to the complaint.

Nelson told police that he thought the man on the ground who punched him was the bouncer who had earlier “hit on” his girlfriend. He said he didn’t recall kicking Kolstad, but one witness said he “just kicked him in the head like it was a soccer ball.”

Brown and Jack Mages, another longtime friend of Nelson’s, have listened to the chatter in town all week and watched the story go national, from ESPN to “Good Morning America.”

“If you don’t know Phil and you just see all these stories, you’re going to think he’s some big thug walking around,” Mages said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“He never got into a fight before,” Brown said. “We joked that that was why he played quarterback — because he didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Alcohol, friends concede, was a factor. Nelson can’t legally drink until he turns 21 next Sept. 11. While the hotshot quarterback in town getting served underage might anger some, it would shock no one.

Police reports said Nelson’s eyes were bloodshot and he smelled of alcohol.

Said Todd Miller, Mankato’s public safety director: “Anytime young people and alcohol get mixed together, common sense goes out the window and bad decisions get made that can impact many, many lives for a good many years.”

An ultimatum?

Nelson’s friends flash back to Oct. 26, the day Nelson helped beat Nebraska.

“I’m sure it was the highest point in his life,” Mages said. “It was one of the highest points in my life just seeing him succeed like that.”

Nelson thrived throughout a historic four-game winning streak, racking up 10 touchdowns — seven passing, three rushing — without a turnover. Mankato fans weren’t surprised. After all, Nelson scored a state-record 135 touchdowns at Mankato West and recruiting expert Tom Lemming ranked him the No. 2 pro-style passer in the nation in 2011.

When Nelson picked Minnesota over Wisconsin, where his father played, it gave new Gophers coach Jerry Kill his first marquee recruit and proved he could keep Minnesota talent.

But despite starting 16 games the last two seasons, the storybook roll didn’t last. Nelson and the entire offense sputtered in season-ending losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Syracuse.

The Texas Bowl was particularly humiliating. Nelson misfired badly and got benched after two series in favor of Mitch Leidner.

Three weeks after the bowl game, Nelson went to Kill’s office seeking answers. According to people familiar with the discussion, Nelson asked for assurance that he’d be the clear No. 1 quarterback heading into his junior year. Kill shook his head and told him he’d have to win the job.

Instead, Nelson announced he was transferring, looking for a more pass-centered offense. Pat Nelson, who tightly manages his son’s career, said they were contemplating the move long before the bowl game.

“I wish him all the best as he continues his education and football career elsewhere,” Kill said when Nelson announced his departure, showing no animosity about the transfer.

  • related content

  • Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson was mobbed by enthusiastic fans after a 34-23 upset of Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 26, 2013.

  • Former gophers quarterback Philip Nelson left the Blue Earth Co jail in Mankato Monday evening with a towel on his head after posting $20,000 (twenty thousand dollars) bail in his assault case stemming from a fight outside a bar that left another former football player in critical condition with head injuries. ] Star Tribune Mankato, MN 5/12/2014

  • Philip Nelson looked for a receiver downfield as he rolled out of the pocket in Minnesota’s 24-10 victory over Penn State last fall.

  • Isaac Kolstad, shown with his wife and daughter, was in critical condition after he was allegedly kicked in the head by Philip Nelson, a former University of Minnesota quarterback.

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