Ruffin McNeill’s influence likely will continue on East Carolina football through transfer quarterback Philip Nelson.
McNeill allowed Nelson to join the Pirates from Rutgers after he was dismissed by the Scarlet Knights in May of 2014 following a bar fight in Minnesota in which a patron, a former college football linebacker, was seriously injured. Those involved in the altercation were reportedly inebriated.
Nelson apparently kicked Dallas Kolstad while Kolstad was unconscious.
To say people learn from their mistakes may be an understatement where Nelson is concerned.
He expressed his appreciation after the spring game for being able to make a fresh start at ECU.
McNeill had a penchant for knowing when to give wayward players second chances. He could be just as adamant about moving players out of the program when they got three strikes.
“We all have stories,” was how the former Pirate referred to players whose histories had gone out of bounds at some point.
First-year ECU coach Scottie Montgomery spent more time at media day Saturday talking about Nelson’s leadership ability than his physical skills.
“When he talks, we listen,” said Pirates senior offensive lineman J.T. Boyd.
Nelson was wearing a cross on a necklace and had a faith-related wristband along with his new adidas jersey at the Murphy Center during media day.
He talked about the importance of his spiritual beliefs in the audio on the website from Saturday.
If that interview isn’t available, it’s because Bonesville is undergoing a major technical overhaul.
Nelson spent two days in jail, paid a $300 fine and performed 100 hours of community service. An expert testified that Nelson’s kick to the head likely didn’t result in the victim’s brain injury. Nelson had to complete six hours of a chemical awareness program.
Nelson was originally charged with first- and third-degree assault. He pled guilty to misdemeanor assault but Rutgers had already jettisoned him.
A video shows that Kolstad initiated the fray by hitting Nelson from behind, knocking him to the ground, according to a report on NJ.com. Nelson apparently had reacted from the perception that his girlfriend had been the subject of improper advances.
Another patron apparently knocked Kolstad out. Kolstad was in grave condition after the bar fight but has improved significantly through rehabilitation, according to reports.
The video shows that the whole ordeal lasted eight seconds.
Those were eight life-changing seconds for Nelson, born on Sept. 11, 1993, who might have completed his college career at Rutgers were it not for the detour the incident produced.
The regrettable situation is a warning to the unwanted circumstances that can develop when alcohol combines with young adult hormones.
Nelson’s demeanor and responses Saturday didn’t indicate that he was inclined to get into such a situation again.
I don’t think we’re dealing with a chronic offender here, not like a recent Heisman Trophy winner who can’t seem to find his way.
Hope I wasn’t just seeing a nice Eddie Haskell side of this young man.
Nelson may well have seen the light — like Paul on the Damascus road.
A friendship with the family of former Pirates quarterback Rob Kass helped steer Nelson to Greenville.
The quarterback situation in the post-Shane Carden era at ECU has had more turns than a soap opera.
Kurt Benkert was supposed to be the starter last season but a knee injury in preseason camp sidelined him for 2015.
Blake Kemp started the season-opening 28-20 win over Towson and played most of the way in a 31-24 loss at Florida. James Summers broke out in a 35-28 win over Virginia Tech.
Kemp and Summers split time for most of the rest of the season as ECU went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference.
McNeill was dismissed after the season. Montgomery and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen supervised a competition between Benkert and Nelson in spring ball.
The competition was supposed to continue into preseason camp but Benkert announced he was transferring to Virginia.
That left Nelson as the starter. The Pirates signed Gardner Minshew from the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association champions at Northwest Mississippi Community College for depth.
The Pirates are hoping to redshirt Minshew this season.
Kemp and John Jacobs transferred away.
Nelson remains, life lessons hopefully learned and on his fourth offense since making seven starts as a true freshman at Minnesota in 2012.
He hasn’t played since performing in 12 games for the Golden Gophers in 2013.
“This offense is my favorite,” Nelson said Saturday. “It’s the one I would use if I went into coaching.”
Nelson is blessed that there wasn’t a fatality in the brief free-for-all that sidetracked him for two seasons.
It was a tough way to get some perspective that ultimately may make him the leader for which the Pirates have been searching.