Nelson soaks up advice from Kill’s ex-QB

by Dane Mizutani

Philip Nelson was eight years old when Joel Sambursky took over at quarterback for a football program in shambles.

Southern Illinois was fresh off a 1-10 record, and according to then-head coach Jerry Kill, was in danger of losing football at the school altogether.

Kill turned to Sambursky at the start of the 2002 season, and so began the resurgence of the Salukis.

Sambursky was 4-8 in his first season as a starter, but the team fought its way to consecutive 10-win seasons the next two years.

He helped put that program back on the map.

Eleven years later, Nelson is in a similar position with the Gophers. And after Minnesota’s bowl-clinching win last weekend at Illinois, Sambursky and Nelson shared a moment.

“I didn’t have much time to prepare my remarks, but it was one of those things where I told him that I know what it’s like to be in those shoes,” Sambursky said. “I know what it’s like when the prevailing culture around you is almost all negative.”

A true freshman, Nelson was thrust into the starting quarterback role in Week 7 against Wisconsin and was overwhelmed in his first start.

The Gophers lost 38-13. They’ve grown used to losses like that as the cellar dweller of the Big Ten for most of the last five years.

Nelson said Sambursky talked about his experience at Southern Illinois and told him to trust in the process.

“It’s a nice little reassurance there,” Nelson said. “He said … it’s something that’s not going to happen overnight.”

Nelson, a normally introverted personality with the media, was receptive and expressive in his conversation with Sambursky.

Sambursky said Nelson asked questions and gauged ways he can improve.

“He’s confident, but he’s not egotistical,” Sambursky said. “He doesn’t feel like he’s got all the answers, and he’s a reflection of his head coach, and I said to him that was important.”

Nelson said he wants to keep contact with Sambursky because “he was in the same situation as us.”

Sambursky said the last thing he told Nelson was it would all be worth it once the turnaround was complete.

“I told him he will be so much happier when he gets to look back on it like I did and say, ‘I was a part of that turning point with that program,’” he said. “We believed in that crazy bald-headed coach … and the rest is history.”


– Members of the Gophers cried after their bowl-clinching win over Illinois last weekend. “I was probably one of them,” defensive back Michael Carter said with a laugh.

– Minnesota has lost 15-straight games to Nebraska. Its last win came on Sept. 24, 1960, but the Gophers lead the all-time series 29-21-2.

– Nebraska is undefeated at home this season and wraps up its home slate against Minnesota this weekend. The Gophers have one road win in the Big Ten since Jerry Kill arrived.

– The Gophers have scored 13 points in every loss this season and have won every time they’ve eclipsed the “unlucky 13” mark.