WINONA, Min. - The play call to go deep arrived early for Jack Nelson at Winona State.
In Nelson's second game as a freshman in 2013, Head Coach Tom Sawyer made the call to start Nelson in a downpour at Saint Cloud State. Ninety six touchdowns and over 10,000 yards later, the quiet righty out of Byron, Minnesota is set to go down as the top passer in the history of the Northern Sun Conference.
"The first play in his first start he throws an 80 yard touchdown to Josh Mikes in an absolute monsoon," Sawyer said. "He put it right on his hands and offensive coordinator Cameron Keller and I both looked at each other and said, 'I think we made a pretty good choice here'."
By now, nearly two dozen NFL teams have heard this story too. Is Nelson the next Division 2 diamond in the rough? That is the million-dollar question. But on the surface, there is nothing that appears the 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior can't handle on Saturdays.
"It is a childhood dream becoming reality," Nelson said. "I've always dreamed of playing at the next level. It is a humbling experience but at the same time it is a real possibility. When I first came here, I thought never in a million years."
Nelson will be the first to say he is not a loud leader. Instead, he's spent four years improving his footwork, cutting down on turnovers and reaping the rewards of two outstanding receiving threats -- the now-graduated Josh Mikes and current senior Cameron Johnson.
"The thing that I think of when I look at all of these records, I could not have done it by myself. I need an offensive line to block for me; running backs, tight ends and receivers to block and catch for me. As I told them last year, it's my name up there in the record book but this is for all of us."
Sawyer certainly believes his four-year starter at quarterback can earn himself a shot in NFL training camps next summer. And if there is anything certain at the moment, it is the intangibles.
"We fully expect all 32 teams to visit Winona to see Jack before this process is done," Keller said.
"They just like my body of work," Nelson said. "They like that I have the prototype size and weight for an NFL quarterback. They also see that I have the stats, I have the arm strength and everything but they also like that I have the leadership qualities too. Most of all, they just want to get to know me as a person. That is the focus right now."