When East Carolina opened spring practice, it did so with one quarterback looking to turn his college career around. Philip Nelson, the former Minnesota quarterback that once transferred to Rutgers only to be dismissed, will join the Pirates as a walk-on this season. East Carolina confirmed his addition to the fall camp roster.
Nelson transferred from Minnesota to Rutgers in early 2014 shortly before being charged for felony assault following a bar brawl that left Division 2 football player Isaac Kolstad (Minnesota State-Mankato) in critical condition. Following his arrest in May 2014, Rutgers cut ties with Nelson by dismissing him from the program. Nelson later pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Now, it appears, East Carolina is willing to give him another opportunity at the FBS level.
So, why would ECU head coach Ruffin McNeil willingly welcome a player with this kind of character issue hovering above him? McNeil feels Nelson has paid his due by taking responsibility for his actions and suggests Nelson will be surrounded by the kind of character that will allow for Nelson to continue rehabilitating his own flaws.
“I think it’s human nature and fair to question decisions such as these, but there was a lot of forethought and deliberation about our willingness to allow Phil to join our program as a [walk-on],” McNeill said in a story published by Wilmington Star News. “He did not make a good decision, but has taken responsibility and performed community service, which included cautioning kids about avoiding bad situations. It is my belief the support and leadership core of our football program can help enable him to become the man we know he can be.”
McNeil better hope he is right with Nelson, and Nelson should feel fortunate there was another door open to play FBS football somewhere in the country. Nelson had two opportunities to make something of himself at the FBS level already, and few get a third chance to prove something. With Kolstad’s football days over, no player in the country should feel as fortunate to be playing college football this season as Nelson.