Male Area Athlete of the Week: Verndale’s Ervasti leads Pirates to victory

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Gideon Ervasti.

Gideon Ervasti admired Craig Orlando.

Ervasti, now a junior at Verndale, looked to Orlando — who graduated last year — for leadership in both football and wrestling.

“He’s been my best friend, he put me under his wing and showed me the ropes especially in football,” Ervasti said. “He’s a smart, good kid, doesn’t do anything bad off the field and a very good role model.”

Ervasti’s performance against Sebeka last week might have been an ode to Orlando. He rushed for 179 yards on 12 carries and scored three touchdowns while recovering two fumbles on defense.

“I just keep running and doing what coach tells me to do,” Ervasti said. “Last week, the outside was open a lot more and then this week the middle opened up more, so I just tried to do what I could.”


Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen says Ervasti ran as hard as he had ever seen against Sebeka. He also made his mark defensively.

“On defense, he was also all over the field,” Mahlen said. “Sebeka doesn’t run that many offensive plays, but it seemed like he was around every one of them. Really being aggressive.”

At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Ervasti is a hard ball carrier to bring down.

“He’s very strong,” Mahlen said. “He’s got good quickness, and I would say he has the tendency to run you over rather than run around you.

“He runs the ball extremely hard. He’s hard to bring down and is just a good all-around player. Last year, he sprained his ankle and never was full speed the whole year.”

Ervasti says he has pretty good speed, but knows that he’s more of a power running back.

“I think the combination of both is what makes me pretty good,” Ervasti said. “I think I can read a lot better than I could before. I think I really improved in creating space and using my speed.”

Ervasti has had to carry more of the offensive load for the Pirates because senior running back Jake Ismil went down with an ankle sprain in their first game against Wheaton.


“We are not sure when he is coming back, so that puts a little more of a load on Gideon in the backfield,” Mahlen said. “We had a pretty good one-two punch there and that’s going to hurt us a bit.”

The junior’s aggressiveness helps him be a very good tackler. He led the team in tackles both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“If you are going to be a good football player you better be aggressive,” Mahlen said. “You better get after people and get the ball. And be in the right spots to make the plays.”

Ervasti said his nose for the football comes from his dad.

“He’s always been on me since I was younger, teaching me discipline and teaching me to do my job and work hard,” Ervasti said.

Ervasti credits defensive coordinator Greg Johnson for helping him be prepared.

“I study film a lot and coach Johnson pushes me,” Ervasti said. “I think coach Johnson is one of the best defensive coaches in the area, no doubt. I just do what he tells me to do and do my job.”

Mahlen finds Ervasti very coachable and he’s one of those players that lives in the weight room in the offseason when he’s not wrestling.


“He’s constantly working to make himself better,” Mahlen said. “Which is a big key for a high school player especially.”

Ervasti’s presence is felt on special teams as well. He is usually the first one down the field on kickoffs and punts.

“We ask him to do a lot of things and I guess in a small school you have to rely on certain kids,” Mahlen said. “Most of the kids have to play special teams, too, I call them six-way players because they have to be on all the special teams.”

Although Ervasti doesn’t like that the season started in mid-October and not early August, he’s adjusted.

“We have a job to do and we have to go with the flow with the way times are now,” he said.

Playing for a coach like Mahlen who owns over 400 wins to his name has been humbling to Ervasti.

“I am really thankful that I play for him,” Ervasti said. “He’s a smart man and everyone respects him in the area. He’s like a grandpa, but he’s stern. When he talks you kind of get shivers on your back sometimes. He’s a very good coach.”


Other notable performances:
Football: Michael Leidnfrost, Pierz, rushed for 129 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns in a win over Melrose.
Zach Jones, Pierz, caught two passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Melrose.
Owen Miller, Aitkin, rushed for 124 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns in a win over Crosby-Ironton.
Austin Price, Aitkin, rushed for 111 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown in a win over Crosby-Ironton.
Payton Rondestedt, Wadena-Deer Creek, scored a total of five touchdowns (three throwing, two rushing) in a win over Park-Audubon.
Cross-Country: Emmet Anderson, Staples-Motley, captured the Section 6-1A title in 15:51.1.

Gideon Ervasti

Year: Junior

School: Verndale

Sport: Football

Position: running back/linebacker

Highlights: He rushed for 179 yards on 12 carries and scored three touchdowns in a win over Sebeka. He also recovered two fumbles on defense.

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