For the first time since being attacked in downtown Mankato more than three weeks ago, Isaac Kolstad responded Tuesday to verbal commands from his neurosurgeon, twice following directions to give a thumbs-up sign, his family said.

On the CaringBridge Web page for the severely injured former Minnesota State University, Mankato, football player, brother-in-law Mike Fleming laid out a detailed account of Kolstad's progressing to a stage the relative characterized as "the best place for a possible recovery."

Kolstad, the 24-year-old former linebacker critically injured in a May 11 fight, suffered a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury, and he remains hospitalized in critical condition at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

Two men have been charged in the attack around bar closing time that left Kolstad injured: former University of Minnesota quarterback and Mankato high school football star Philip Nelson, and Trevor Shelley, 21, of St. Peter, Minn. A punch from Shelley allegedly knocked Kolstad unconscious. Nelson, 20, is accused of kicking Kolstad in the head as he lay defenseless on the pavement.

"What we have been waiting and hoping for are movements with purpose completed on command," Fleming posted Tuesday. "The physicians have told us that if Isaac is able to follow a command, he will be in the best place for a possible recovery."

Fleming then described Kolstad's exchange with the doctor:

"The neurosurgeon asked him to squeeze his hand. His fingers moved, but was it really a squeeze, he wasn't sure. 'Isaac, give me a thumbs up!' he yelled.

"And there went Isaac's left thumb in the air."

After an uncertain response to a second command to squeeze the doctor's hand, Fleming continued, the neurosurgeon again told Kolstad, "'Give me a thumbs up, Isaac!' and there went that left thumb straight up in the air!"

Fleming said the doctor "was certain" that Kolstad was following the commands for a thumbs up.

Kolstad has a 3-year-old daughter, and his wife is pregnant.

The family is declining to say more about Kolstad's case, beyond what's on CaringBridge.