Jackson Erdmann: Path to the NFL Draft
Just three quarterbacks in the whole of College Football threw for over 5000 yards in 2019. One of those, Joe Burrow, is the consensus first overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. It is highly likely that another, Anthony Gordon, hears his name called in Las Vegas at the end of the April. The third, from Division III St. John’s University, faces a much harder journey to the NFL. However, Jackson Erdmann is no stranger to challenges and adversity. Overcoming those have helped him get to where he is today.
“There’s always going to be setbacks in life. Whether that’s football related or just in general. There’s going to be so much that you have to fight, and adversity to overcome. It’s definitely prepared me, and shaped me into who I am. I’ve got that fighter instinct.”
The fact that Jackson Erdmann is within touching distance of the NFL is a testament to his fighting spirit and will to succeed. Competing for a spot on an NFL roster pales into insignificance compared to the fight he’s already had just to make it back to the football field.
“After my junior season I was diagnosed with mono. The mono led to acute cerebellar ataxia. It disrupted my entire vestibular cortex, so balance, depth perception, eye movement. I wasn’t able to walk. I was in hospital for about a week. Didn’t go to any school for about a month and a half. I was knocked out for a couple months. I couldn’t sit up for a while without falling over or slumping or vomiting. Aside from football, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to walk again or do regular bodily functions. It was a scary time for me and my family.”
Rosemount on the radio
The Erdmann family was a key support mechanism during the hardest times. They’ve been a key part of his entire football journey. His dad, Jeff, was the high school coach in their hometown of Rosemount, Minnesota and following the Rosemount Irish with his mum, Ruth, formed the earliest footballing memories for Jackson Erdmann.
“I remember listening to the radio with my mum, in the basement, to my Dad’s football games when I was like three or four years old. I always wanted to grow up and play for him, play for the Rosemount Irish. Ever since I was little football has been a big part of our family, obviously with him being the head coach and the whole family loving the game.”
After playing flag football, youth football, and middle school football, Jackson Erdmann got the opportunity to make his childhood dream come through as the starting quarterback for his Dad’s Rosemount Irish.
“It was awesome. Growing up, I’d always wanted to play for him under the lights. I started for the varsity team my sophomore, junior, and senior years. That was an awesome three years under him as the varsity starter. So many great memories and moments. We always had some pretty far playoff runs, so we got to play in some pretty cool venues like the Metrodome when that was still up, TCF Bank Stadium. It was a great experience.”
Jackson Erdmann fighting for every opportunity
Like every stop on his path to the NFL Draft, it was an opportunity that he had to fight for, even as the son of the head coach.
“He’s the type of coach, and man, where he wants everything to be earned, especially with his son. There can be a lot of criticism, like, “oh he’s the coach’s kid, that’s why he’s playing” and that was exactly the atmosphere he didn’t want for the program. I always had to fight for the position, for the work, nothing was ever handed to me. I’m happy I was raised that way because it taught me to play like an underdog.”
It was in between his junior and senior years at high school that Jackson Erdmann suffered from acute cerebellar ataxia. If his journey to that point had taught him how to play like an underdog, now he would have to teach himself how to play football again.
“My dad would unlock the high school. They have those long halls, so when I was able to sit up and stand, I’d go into the halls after hours and practice walking in a straight line, following the patterns on the carpet. A couple months after that I was able to start practicing football again. The first time I played catch with my dad I couldn’t catch any of the passes, and he was literally standing ten yards away! I couldn’t even throw it close to him! I’d be throwing it into the ground at my feet. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to play again with how horribly that went.”
Injury ends Erdmann's time with the Irish
Miraculously, Jackson returned to full health to guide Rosemount to another playoff run in his final year for the program. Unfortunately, disaster would strike in the first round of the state tournament. On the third play of the game, Jackson Erdmann suffered a broken leg and the Rosemount Irish would go on to a narrow defeat. His high school career was over.
“It was a tough way to go out for sure. But there’s lots to be thankful for that I was healthy for that full senior season.”
After accomplishing the goal of playing high school football for Jeff at Rosemount, the next goal was the natural progression of his football journey. However, the step up to college football didn’t come easily.
Getting a shot to play Division I football
“It was a little stressful at times, to be honest. I didn’t get a single scholarship offer. No DI, no DII, schools would always draw it out. I talked to a lot of schools, but no one pulled the trigger on a scholarship. So, my final choices were between Penn State or Iowa State as a preferred walk on. They were the only schools that would give me a preferred walk on, and I wanted to give DI a shot.”
He chose to pursue his dream of playing Division I football at Penn State as a Nittany Lion. It was a dream that was, however, short lived.
“I absolutely loved my time there. Very thankful for it. Just a couple of things made me transfer. The tuition was a lot of money. Then they intended switching the offense around the same time that Saquon, Saquon Barkley, was there. They got a new offensive co-ordinator and I could see them moving towards a dual threat, spread offense and me being a pocket passer, it doesn’t suit my talents as much. So, I made the switch to St. John’s and I’m so happy I did.”
Jackson Erdmann and the SJU Johnnies
In St. John’s, Jackson Erdmann found the perfect home and both program and player thrived during this time there, both on and off the field.
“I couldn’t be happier. I spent four years there, could have graduated early but decided to go back and play one more year of football. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t absolutely love it there. I’m paying to go back, Division III doesn’t have the luxury of scholarship, going further into student debt just to go back and spend time with these coaches, the community, play one more season for the Johnnies which I’m so thankful I was able to do. It’s such an unreal place. Everyone who’s been there and experienced it, they know what I’m talking about. It’s just a different place up there.”
During his time at St. John’s, Jackson Erdmann contributed to many community projects. His love of helping contribute to those less fortunate than himself was born in Rosemount, and St. John’s sense of community helped him to continue that work. It also allowed him to help shape the future of college student athletes as he prepares to leave his college career behind as part of the NCAA Board of Governors and State Legislative Working Group.
“I’m one of three student athletes who are on the board of governors. We’re working at adapting the NCAA rules and regulations, whether or not athletes should be compensated for their name, image, and likeness. I’m voicing my opinion, voicing my concern, and campaigning for student athlete’s rights. It’s very cool that I’m in that position where I can advocate for past, current, and future student athletes.”
The DIII Heisman
On the field, the one goal that he set out to achieve from the start alluded Jackson Erdmann: The Division III National Championship.
“That was my only goal being there, football wise. I remember telling Gary Fasching, the St John’s head coach, when I transferred: “my goal is I want to be a four-year starter and I want to win the National Championship”. That’s what I told him. It’s tough, because that was the only goal coming into each season. We were so close at times but looking back there’s so much to be thankful for. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over coming up just short. Tough way to go out for sure but lots to be thankful and proud of.”
In the four years there was plenty to be proud of. Jackson Erdmann was recognised with many honours during his time as a Johnnie, ranging from a 2017 All-MIAC First Team selection, to a MIAC MVP and All-American honour, as well as being voted D3football.com National Offensive Player of the Year. Whilst recognising that he couldn’t achieve any of those without the support of the team around him, Jackson points to one award which he holds above all others.
“The one I’d say I’m most proud of is the Gagliardi Award, which is essentially the DIII Heisman. It’s not just football skill and activity, but academic, community involvement and off the field. That’s what St. John’s strives for. It’s the epitome of being a Johnnie so I’m definitely proud of that one.”
Jackson Erdmann making the jump
The Gagliardi Award came in 2018, a season where Jackson Erdmann threw for 3450 yards and 47 touchdowns. That performance began to attract the interest of NFL scouts, and that interest will have only grown after a senior season that saw him take his career tally at St. John’s to 11,639 passing yards and 139 touchdowns. There will always be the criticism that DIII lacks the level of competition to make the numbers relevant, but Jackson knows that the opportunity to make the jump is there.
“Especially in the past couple years there’s been some DIII guys who’ve been able to make the jump and have success in the NFL. I think DIII is starting to get more looks because people have done it, so people are starting to know it’s possible. Especially teams and scouts. Ben Bartch, our left tackle, he’s gonna get drafted. If you’re talented enough, you’re going to get a shot and you’re going to be able to showcase your skills and be seen. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of that opportunity and showing what you can do.”
Tale of the tape
Jackson Erdmann’s skill set has been developing since he was a boy growing up in Rosemount. Jeff Erdmann was a Green Bay Packers season ticket holder, and Jackson was a kid inspired by firstly Brett Favre, and then Aaron Rodgers. Although he acknowledges that he is different to those two, he’s learned lessons from two of the best to play the quarterback position.
“I wouldn’t say I modelled my game after them, I’m a little different in aspects. But Brett Favre being a gunslinger and not holding back. Just learning from stuff they do with techniques, like Aaron Rodgers with the hard count. I’m definitely a pocket passer, but I have the ability to get out of the pocket and throw on the run and make plays if need be. I’m accurate. I have good intuition and know what needs to be done. Whether that’s picking up a first down or taking a shot deep, whatever the game situation is. I can adapt too, you know. If defenses change their coverage, or they’re blitzing, I’m good at picking that up and throwing where it’ll hurt them.”
Jackson Erdmann: From adversity to opportunity
The next opportunity that Jackson Erdmann will have to showcase those skills, plus the grit, fight, and determination he brings along for the ride, will be at the Minnesota Gophers Pro Day on March 25th. The size of that opportunity isn’t lost on him.
“Oh, it’s a huge opportunity. I’m very thankful and excited to be there. Especially as a small school guy, thankful for them letting me into it. With how many teams and scouts that will be there it’s a great opportunity for me to be seen and showcase my skills in front of them. I’ve been training hard and I’m excited to show everyone what I can do.”
The Minnesota Gophers Pro Day will be just four weeks before the start of the NFL Draft in Las Vegas.
What would it mean to Jackson Erdmann, a DIII quarterback who at one point thought he might never walk again, to walk on to an NFL team either through the draft or as an UDFA?
“Oh my gosh, it’d be a dream come true. This is what I’ve been working for. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was little that I’ve been working so hard for. It would be awesome.”
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Photo Credit: Daily Jefferson County Union
Huge thanks to Jackson Erdmann for taking the time to talk to us. Also, to Case Donahue at the Institute For Athletes for helping connect us.