Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
On Philip Nelson's first play as a college quarterback, he handed off the ball to Donnell Kirkwood, who was stopped immediately for a loss of a yard. On his next play, Nelson ran the ball himself, picking up three yards before being pulled down. And on the third play, the snap sailed low and to Nelson's right, off his hands and to the turf. The freshman fell on it, then jogged off the field, already a little wiser about his chosen position.
That wisdom? Hey, this isn't so hard.
Now that's poise.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Nelson said. "But as soon as the first series was over, I realized it was just another football game."
Yeah, just like those pickup games in his backyard, with 275-pound defensive ends trying to plaster him under their cleats and 80,000 people rooting against him. Who hasn't had a day like that?
But Nelson took that attitude into the rest of the game, and the result was a calm, controlled debut, 149 yards worth of passing and another 67 on the ground. And while he threw a couple of interceptions, he hardly resembled a wide-eyed teenager out there.
"We just knew you get the jitters out, between everybody out there, because it was a pretty big game," Nelson said Tuesday. "After that first series, we all felt way more confident. And once we had a great drive down there and scored a touchdown, from then on all the jitters were out and we were ready to win."
That part didn't happen, but Nelson is informally penciled in to start the next 41 Gopher games. If he stays healthy, anyway.
His predecessor couldn't, an unfortunate reality that led coach Jerry Kill to make the change. And MarQueis Gray said he hopes Nelson has better luck avoiding injury than he did.
"This offense is based on, relies heavily on, the quarterback running. He's done a great job, but it's the game of football. He's going to have to take some of those hits," Gray said.
His advice? Get help.
"Get into the training room (every) Sunday, get into the cold tub and just get ready for the next week. It's hard, he's going to take so many hits running the ball," Gray said. "Even when you think you're body's not sore, the extra precaution (is important). Go into the training room, get looked at, do the extra icing."
Nelson took one scary hit on Saturday, when Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland hit him knee-high after he released a pass. Borland was flagged for a personal foul on the play, and Nelson said he could still feel the impact a couple of days later.
"My knee, it did kind of buckle in a little different way. The trainers, they took care of me," Nelson said. "I'm feeling great now. I'm going to practice just like normal."
Still, he admitted that the collisions are a little more jarring in college.
"In the heat of the moment, you don't even feel anything," he said. "But these past couple of days, you feel it a little bit more than you do in high school, that's for sure."
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