Three months ago, I had the privilege of talking with current Saint John’s University quarterback, Jackson Erdmann. We discussed family, faith, football, and the 2020 NFL Draft. The Johnnies had just gone 12-1 in Erdmann’s junior season, winning the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for a MIAC record 33rd time. In December, Erdmann was presented the 2018 Gagliardi Trophy as the most outstanding football player in NCAA Division III.
D-III football crowns a champion after a single elimination tournament consisting of the top 32 teams. In 2018, St. John’s would win their first two playoff matchups before heading to Texas as one of eight remaining schools. Unfortunately, Erdmann and the Johnnies’ undefeated season would end there in a three-point quarterfinal loss to eventual champion, Mary Hardin-Baylor.
To say the St. John’s Johnnies have unfinished business in 2019 would be an understatement. Erdmann said himself that while cliche, it’s precisely the team’s current mindset. With one year of eligibility remaining, Division III’s most outstanding player has his sights set first on a 2019 national championship–and, then the 2020 NFL Draft.
Part I: The Player
Jackson Erdmann had an exceptional junior season for the third-ranked St. John’s University football team. As MIAC’s most valuable player, Erdmann completed 67% of his passes in 2018 for 3,450 yards and a Division III high 47 touchdowns. Furthermore, he’d lead D-III in passing efficiency.
For perspective, there were two quarterbacks in all of NCAA college football who were more efficient. Only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray, scored higher last season. And only first-round selection, Dwayne Haskins threw for more scores.
So how’d this guy end up in Division III? Well, Erdmann would’ve gladly played Division I had he received a scholarship. You see, Erdmann’s football life to this point has been everything but straightforward.
Friday night lights
Erdmann first put on the pads and participated in organized football when he was in third grade. It was much earlier, however, that he fell in love with the game of football. When asked where his football interest originated, Jackson was quick to mention his dad.
“Yeah, I would definitely say love at first sight. My dad is actually the Rosemount high school football coach and he’s been into coaching as long as I can remember. So, I remember sitting in the basement with my mom and sister when I was maybe like, I don’t know how old, three or four, just listening to his games on the radio Friday nights.”
Rosemount high school is one of more than 30 6A programs in Minnesota, the highest class in the state. It wasn’t until Erdmann’s 10th-grade year that his talents became apparent. As a sophomore, Erdmann would play half a season for the junior varsity program before making the jump to varsity. From there he’d remain the school’s starting quarterback until he graduated.
Before he was old enough for school, Erdmann knew he wanted to play football for his dad. Now, he was the star quarterback. And with Erdmann under center, the Irish offense was a force to be reckoned with.
In his junior season, the Rosemount Irish would reach the Class 6A state finals against a local powerhouse, Eden Prairie. Erdmann’s team would drop the contest. However, expectations for Erdmann’s senior year were not just to return but win. This was by all accounts the best Rosemount team since 1981’s state championship team.
In his senior year, Erdmann would go on to throw 24 touchdown passes versus four interceptions in just 34 quarters of play. Between his junior and senior seasons, he’d combine for 3,845 yards passing and 53 total touchdowns leading to many honors and accolades–but no state title.
A rematch was expected between Rosemount and Eden Prairie in 2014, but it would never arrive. In the first-round, Rosemount jumped out to an early lead against Lakeville North before a routine veer option run turned ugly. Erdmann recalls the play vividly.
“It was literally the third play from scrimmage and we’re a triple option team. So we were doing a veer play, veer to the right. The five technique came down, so I pulled it. And then I think the middle linebacker just came and tracked me from behind. My leg was planted and he pulled me over my leg and I went down immediately. It kind of buckled underneath me.”
After a trip to the sideline for some tape and tests to prove he could continue, Erdmann reentered the contest. It would prove inconsequential as Rosemount would lose their first game of the year, ultimately ending their season. The star quarterback on Rosemount’s best team since 1981 had broken his fibula.
“Yeah, I just tried to play through it. Things didn’t turn out the way I hoped, but you know, that’s sports. That’s (also) the great thing about sports. You just gotta battle, give it your all and, you know, looking back that’s what I did.”
Since we’re looking back, I should mention how Erdmann’s senior season almost ended before it began. In many ways, the 2020 NFL Draft should not even be in sight for Erdmann. Technically, the quarterback’s final game of football should’ve been in the 2013 Minnesota state title loss to Eden Praire.
Continue reading Part II: The Person
Shane G. Tyler is the Film Room Content Director and writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @SugaShane15.