MANKATO — It’s been 10 days since the football season ended for Mankato West, and it still bugs Philip Nelson that he couldn’t help his team win the semifinal game and achieve the goal of a state championship.
But that loss hasn’t diminished what the senior quarterback and his teammates accomplished this season, winning the first 11 games and being ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA all season.
“That last game didn’t come out the way we wanted,” he said. “But I know that everybody out there gave it their all and played their hearts outs. That’s all you can do.”
On Tuesday, Nelson was named the player of the year by The Associated Press. It was the second time Nelson had earned an all-state honor from AP.
“It’s an honor,” Nelson said. “It’s a great individual award, but football is a team game, and I couldn’t have done anything without my teammates, with all the work in the offseason and building chemistry.”
This season, Nelson completed 174 of 262 passes for 2,784 yards with 35 touchdowns, breaking the single-season program records for yards and touchdown passes. He also rushed for 1,243 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“I’m excited for him,” West coach Mark Esch said. “He deserved it. From what I’ve seen, he was the best football player in Minnesota this season.”
In his four-year career, Nelson completed 490 of 801 passes for 7,564 yards and 94 touchdowns, ranking second in state history in each category. He holds the state record of 135 touchdowns, rushing and passing, in his career.
It all started the summer before his freshman season. Esch said that Ray Teachout was going to be the starter the next season, so he gave a lot of reps to Nelson during summer camps. The extra work paid off because Nelson had to start a couple of games when Teachout was hurt, continuing the momentum of a state-championship season.
Nelson took over as a sophomore and has piled up stats and records like none before him, earning three all-city and All-Big Nine Conference awards and being named the conference’s offensive player of the year the last two seasons.
“It’s been pretty special to work with a player of his caliber,” Esch said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s humble, which makes it more enjoyable. He never let ego get in his way.”
Nelson will play in a national all-star game in early January, then he’ll enroll at the University of Minnesota for spring semester, taking part in the Gophers’ offseason workouts. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and an assistant coach were in Mankato on Monday making an official visit with Nelson, who committed last fall.
“Being part of the West football family for four years has been pretty special, watching myself and this group grow up to become football players,” Nelson said. “It’s unreal how fast times flies by, but I’m excited to watch the younger players continue to grow up.
“I’ll come back for Job’s (dance) and prom, and I’ll walk with my class (at graduation). I’ll be at the U, but I’ll still be with my classmates a lot.”
Other local players were also honored by The Associated Press on Tuesday.