For Lafayette football player Jack Erwin, imitation proved the sincerest form of mastery.
The outside linebacker tried to emulate the best qualities of his teammates and mentors, and this year’s Daily Press Defensive Player of the Year ended up with a four-year high school career worth more than the sum of its parts.
Erwin’s freshman year at Lafayette coincided with the senior year of three-year starting quarterback Brendan McGinty, and McGinty became Erwin’s first role model.
McGinty compiled more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 35 touchdowns that season, but he broke his wrist in the state semifinal. Rather than mope, he suited up for the state final at wingback and safety. Lafayette lost 25-19 to Magna Vista, but McGinty’s dedication awed Erwin.
“I tried to base some of what I did around him, just the way he could get people to follow behind him and go to war with him every single game,” Erwin said.
Erwin’s leadership blossomed throughout his career and came to the forefront this season.
“He doesn’t come off the field,” Lafayette coach Andy Linn said. “He gives his full effort at all times, no matter what.
“Sometimes you get what I call pillars of the program, guys you can build around. Brendan McGinty, he was one of those guys, and Jack continued in his footsteps. You don’t get them all the time, but when you get them, you wish you had more of them.”
In Erwin’s sophomore year, he found two more mentors in seniors Trey Neville and Cheyton Pine.
Neville earned a first-team all-state selection for his play at tight end that season, and he now plays that position for Army.
From Neville, Erwin learned the art of aggression. Lafayette’s Wing-T offense requires the tight end to block heavily, and Erwin had to learn to tap into his force as a de facto lineman.
“I think I’m athletic enough to catch passes, but I learned from Trey to be aggressive all the time,” Erwin said. “When I blocked, when I went out for passes, I tried to play the way he played.”
From Pine, now a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Panthers, Erwin taught himself to deliver bone-rattling tackles.
“Whenever he hit somebody, he used everything he had,” Erwin said. “I liked to picture myself doing the same thing, and that helped me on the field.”
In Erwin’s senior year, he combined the qualities he learned from McGinty, Neville, Pine and other teammates into a stellar season for the Rams.
He garnered a Class 4 first-team all-state selection as an all-purpose defender. He also was named the Region 4A Defensive Player of the Year for his season, which featured 146 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and three blocked kicks.
Erwin initially planned to play lacrosse in college, and he verbally committed to the University of Richmond. This football season, though, changed his mind.
“Before this year, lacrosse was really my number one sport,” Erwin said. “I still love it, but this year bumped football ahead of lacrosse.”
So he quietly decommitted from Richmond lacrosse during the season and now is pursuing college football scholarships. He came late to the recruiting game but remains optimistic.
“I just want to see where it goes,” Erwin said. “I’m excited to see what happens and where football will take me.”
His coach likes his prospects.
“He’s a little behind the recruiting ball, but somebody’s going to get a steal,” Linn said. “They’re going to get a kid who’s 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, a tremendous athlete and a tremendous young man. And they’re going to think, ‘How come no one had picked this guy up yet?’ Yeah, some team’s going to get lucky.”
Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.