Entering his senior year, Jack Erwin of Lafayette High had committed to play lacrosse at the University of Richmond. Exiting it, he will walk on to play linebacker at the College of William and Mary.
In between, he excelled in both sports. He was selected the Daily Press Defensive Player of the Year in football, was a standout on the Lafayette team that won a club state title in lacrosse, and is the Daily Press Male Athlete of the Year because of his all-around excellence.
“If Jack had decided to stick with lacrosse, he would’ve been great in college,” said Thomas Rice, the coach of the Rams team that beat Cox of Virginia Beach 13-9 in May to defend its Hampton Roads Lacrosse title.
Lafayette football coach Andy Linn said, “I told (William and Mary defensive coordinator) Trevor Andrews that (the Tribe) got a steal getting that kid for free.
“He’s an unbelievable football player and will find his way onto a special team sooner rather than later.”
Then at some point, Linn predicts, he will become a major contributor for the Tribe and earn scholarship money. One can understand why the Rams’ coach feels that way after Erwin tallied 146 tackles, including 11 sacks, another 24 tackles for loss and three blocked kicks in leading the Rams to a 12-2 record, the Region 4A title and a second consecutive Class 4 state semifinal appearance.
“I really do like to hit people,” Erwin, 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, said when asked why he de-committed in lacrosse and decided to play college football. “Coming from the linebacker position, I’m able to do that more in football.”
Erwin said his favorite hit of the season came in a 14-0 win over Smithfield, when “I de-cleated (Packers quarterback) Willie Drew (the Daily Press Offensive Player of the Year) when he rolled out around end on the first drive. That showed we were ready and weren’t going to back down.
“A hit like that gets you psyched to give your all the rest of the game. It also motivates your teammates because they’re thinking, ‘Let me get some of that.’ ”
The victory ultimately earned the Rams a sixth consecutive Bay Rivers District title, a game ahead of Smithfield. His biggest play as a tight end on offense was a long catch that gave the Rams the game-clinching first down in the 17-7 win at King’s Fork for the Region 4A championship.
While Linn describes him as “the ultimate team player,” Erwin said he likes making big plays like that because he relishes the thought of carrying his team. Erwin says shaking a King’s Fork defensive back on the play with a juke makes it one of his favorite of 2017, but he found the role of “getting dirty blocking and knocking an opponent in the dirt” the best part of playing tight end.
Erwin played more of a finesse role for a lacrosse team that finished 12-2 and is 26-3 over the past two seasons. He’s played virtually his entire career as a defender, with a long stick, but was moved this season by Rice to the midfield.
“We needed more help in the midfield and Jack is one of our best two players,” said Rice, whose brother, attacker Matt Rice, is the other star and will play Division I lacrosse at Mount St. Mary’s. “His willingness to jump out of his comfort zone showed his leadership and inspired the other guys to step up around him and have a team-first mentality.”
As in football, Erwin had been a dominant defender in lacrosse, where he used his superior footwork to stay in front of attackers and his toughness to outmuscle them. But he transitioned nicely to the midfield role, which required more running and more thinking about whether to pass the ball and to whom.
Erwin finished third on the team to Matt Rice with 52 points (28 goals and 24 assists), tallying three goals and five assists in the championship game against Cox. Thomas Rice said Erwin’s goal on the Rams’ first possession was one of the biggest of the game.
“It was emotional because it was the first goal and was a big motivating factor after we had put up a defensive stand to start the game,” Thomas Rice said. “Jack showed his leadership scoring the goal and gave us a big jolt of energy.”
Erwin said, “Whenever you finish in first place and get a state championship, it’s a great feeling, especially because that was my last career lacrosse season.
“Going out on top is one of the best feelings you can have.”
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and follow on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP