Football: Finally healthy, Ervasti turns in a season to remember

Verndale senior earns Dispatch Player of the Year

Verndale's Gideon Ervasti runs the ball in the Section 4 Nine-Man Final Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at the Fargodome. Bill Johnson / Picture Day Pro!

Gideon Ervasti played a full season for the first time since his freshman year in 2021.

The Verndale senior running back and linebacker missed most of the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to injury.

In 2021, Ervasti turned in one of the best seasons Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen has seen.

His play earned him All-District Nine-Man West South MVP honors and a trip to the 2021 All-State game. He’s also the Dispatch 2021 All-Area Football Player of the Year. He’s the first Verndale player to be named Dispatch Player of the Year since Matt Moenkedick in 2008.

“It was very satisfying to watch and I’m sure for him it was satisfying too,” Mahlen said. “He started for us on defense as a freshman and led the team in tackles and played the whole year. Both sophomore and junior years he’s starting both ways and had an ankle injury both years. Both years he came back and wasn’t 100%, but this year was gratifying.”


It was the offseason where Ervasti said helped him the most to have a healthy season.

“I worked on my stabilizers to fix up my body and be healthy and be fast,” Ervasti said. “If you put in the work then usually it pays off. It was really rewarding this year.”

Mahlen said being District MVP is a high honor because the coaches vote on the award.

“To be the MVP of our district is a pretty big honor,” Mahlen said. “The other coaches see his talent and ability too.”

Being an All-State selection was also a big honor to Ervasti.

“I think it’s a lot of respect,” he said. “They respect me as a player. I want to be able to show what I got and make some new friends. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity playing at US Bank Stadium.”

RELATED: High School Football: 2 All-Stars highlight the All-Area 1st Team

Ervasti led the area in rushing with 1,640 yards and 21 touchdowns on 178 carries which meant he rushed the ball at a 9.2 yards-per-carry clip. He caught 11 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown.


“I think he averaged close to 10 yards a carry,” Mahlen said. “And he did that against the good teams, too. He had his most carries in those games and ran well against those teams. He’s always been reliable. I knew if we could keep him healthy he’d have this kind of year for us. Gideon is a football player.”

One of Ervasti's blockers was Eli Olsson, who was the All-District Nine-Man West South Lineman of the Year.

“Eli is a stud,” Ervasti said. “He’s not one of those guys who is always in the weight room, but whatever Eli does he does with a working mentality. He never made mental mistakes. He did his job and always made a big hole. I’ll miss running behind him.”

This year on defense, Ervasti led the Pirates with 82.5 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one interception and three pass breakups.

“I got a lot better as a player just by learning how to fight off blocks and read,” Ervasti said. “I feel like I matured a lot since freshman year.”

Mahlen added: “It doesn’t show up in the stats but the pressure he puts on the quarterback is something you can’t measure. That’s really an asset.”

RELATED: High School Football: Multiple players selected to All-Area 2nd Team

Mahlen knew Ervasti was going to be special when he asked to join varsity practices as an eighth-grader after his junior high season was done.


“I told him he couldn’t dress for the games and he said ‘I don’t care, I want to practice,’” Mahlen said. “So he practiced four to six extra weeks that year and I knew right from there he would be a pretty easy kid to coach.”

Ervasti said those practices were good for his development.

“I remember those practices,” Ervasti chuckled. “I remember they would put me on offense and defense or wherever they needed me. Those seniors pushed me and showed me what it takes to be starting the next year.”

Mahlen said his work ethic stands out to why Ervasti has had so much on-field success.

“He lifts weight and you don’t have to pry him in there — you always have to keep him out sometimes,” Mahlen said. “He’s just worked hard at it and wants to be a good football player and he is.”

Mahlen is the winningest coach in the state of Minnesota with over 400 wins to his name. Ervasti is one of the best players he’s seen.

“He’s one of the better players that’s played for me,” Mahlen said. “It’s hard over the years, I’ve had a lot of kids like Gideon come through here. He’s definitely one of the top players I’ve ever coached. The things he’s accomplished with the stats speak for themselves, but he’s a good young man. He’s a better person than he is a football player.”

Ervasti looks to play college football somewhere next year, but hasn’t made his choice yet.


“He’ll help someone out,” Mahlen said.

Gideon Ervasti

Grade: Senior

School: Verndale

Position: Running back and linebacker

Stats: Named All-District Nine-Man West South, All-Nine Man Section 4, All-Nine Man West South Subdistrict MVP and a 2021 All-Star. He finished with 1,640 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 178 carries. He caught 11 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. He recorded 82.5 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one interception and three pass break ups.

All-Area Football Players of Year

2021: Gideon Ervasti, Verndale


2020: Owen Miller, Aitkin

2019: Matthias Algarin, Pierz

2018: Reese Kapsner, Pierz

2017: Charlie Geraets, BRD

2016: Noah Gindorff, C-I

2015: Noah Boser, Pierz

2014: Robbie Skiba, Pierz

2013: Conor Gessel BRD, Cole Smith BRD


2012: Josh Lanners, Pierz

2011: Jake Kassulker, BRD

2010: Jordan Hayes BRD; Zach Horejsi, Little Falls

2009: Kyle Crocker, BRD

2008: Colby Ring, BRD; Matt Moenkedick, Verndale

2007: Nate Schaefbauer BRD; Mike Valesano BRD

2006: Scott Herold, Pierz

2005: Scott Saehr, Pierz

2004: Christian Even, Pierz

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at

Gideon Ervasti.

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