Irish football ready to hit the ground running
Last season started slowly for the Rosemount football team.
With lots of first-time varsity players on both sides of the ball, the Irish struggled with consistency and committed more than their share of turnovers while losing to Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and Prior Lake in the season’s first four weeks.
Things started to get sorted out by Week 5, and behind an improving offense and an aggressive defense the Irish won six of their next seven games and knocked off Stillwater and Edina en route to yet another trip to the state semifinals.
With nine regulars back on offense and five returners on defense, longtime coach Jeff Erdmann hopes his Irish can take advantage of their experience and pick up where they left off at the end of last season.
“We’ve got a lot more coming back than we did last year. It helps to have those guys that have varsity experience, especially in the playoffs,” Erdmann said. “At the end of last season our offensive line solidified and we got better at limiting turnovers and the defense played very well, so everything just came together for us.”
One notable change during the team’s second-half run was the emergence of quarterback Jackson Erdmann. The 6-foot-3 sophomore took over full-time in Week 6 and ended up completing 66 of 103 passes for 685 yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s nice to have a tall quarterback that can see over the linemen and he’s a pretty accurate thrower. As he gained experience we were able to open things up and do a few more things with the playbook,” Erdmann said. “We had to be a little more conservative with how we were using him. We’re excited to be able to threaten deep with our speed a little more this year.”
The Irish’s top speed threat is all-conference running back Dimitri Williams, who showed big play ability on everything from runs to swing passes to kick and punt returns a season ago. He finished with 284 rushing yards and five touchdowns while sharing carries with several backs and caught a team-high 35 passes for 434 yards and two scores.
Other options in the running game include Trent Woodcock and Grant Jackson.
“Our offensive philosophy is to have answers for whatever the defense takes away. With our option game they can take things away, so if they decide to double Dimitri we can go to our other guys,” Erdmann said. “We’re excited to have several guys we can throw to that the defense has to be concerned with which should open things up for Dimitri, as well. We don’t have the big backs that we’ve had in the past, but we’ve got some smaller guys that are really fast.”
Those outside threats are 6-1 wideout Jordan Herbranson, who caught 16 passes for 341 yards a season ago, and 6-3 target Tyler Hartigan. Gabe Ehlers is back at tight end and could also see time in the backfield.
Linemen Jake Conn and Jacob Koestler round out the Irish’s list of returning starters on the offensive side of the ball.
A trio of returning linebackers make up the core of the Irish’s defensive unit. Senior all-conference performer Craig Szymanski is back along with Nate Sackett and Ryan Fox. This group helped the Irish allow a total of 30 points in their final five victories of last season.
“We got some very good outside linebacker play last season. They came out and played aggressively and covered well and tackled well,” Erdmann said. “We forced a few turnovers here and there and made some huge stops at very important moments.”
Also back are defensive lineman Tre Peterson and defensive back Carter Yepsen.
On special teams, Ehlers is back to do the punting after averaging 28.8 yards on 27 punts last season. The Irish also have experience back in the kicking game with Brandon Ekeren, who made 11 of 14 extra points and a 31-yard field goal last year.
Williams averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return and 16.4 yards per punt return.
The Irish start the season at home next Thursday against Wayzata. It will be the first in a stretch of three games against state tournament teams in four weeks to start the season. The South Suburban Conference season begins on the road at Eastview in Week 2, and the team stays on the road for games at Bloomington Kennedy and Prior Lake in Weeks 3 and 4.
Eagan and Lakeville South come to Irish Stadium in Weeks 5 and 6, and then the Irish travel to Bloomington Jefferson before closing out the regular season at home against Lakeville North during MEA Week.
“We probably have the toughest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Erdmann said. “I think our conference is absolutely better than last year as far as quality of play, but those are things you can’t concern yourself with. For us we have to worry about our work ethic, our intensity and our discipline and we’ve got some work to do there to be successful.”