|Evan Clark has been a huge difference this year for two young St. John's quarterbacks.
St. John's athletics photo by Sean Donohue
The St. John’s offense has needed stability and leadership this season. Any team would after graduating key veteran players, like running back Sam Sura, quarterback Nick Martin and wide receiver Josh Bungum.
With new personnel on the field, including freshman quarterback Jackson Erdmann to start the season, Evan Clark has stepped into that role. The senior wide receiver has produced on the field by catching 10 touchdown passes and has shown his leadership ability by taking the Johnnies’ young players under his wing.
But he had to overcome a significant injury this offseason in order to be in the position he is today.
During the third game of the 2015 season, Clark tore his triceps. He sat out the second half, but attempted to play the following week against rival St. Thomas.
That’s when he learned the injury was more serious than originally thought.
“We initially thought it was just a hyper-extended elbow,” Clark said. “I was looking to be a leader for the team, and I wasn’t going to let them down by not playing.
“I tried to play through it and do what I could,” he continued. “I couldn’t even extend my elbow completely.”
“It was a devastating injury for him, and for us. As people can see, he’s a heck of a playmaker,” SJU head coach Gary Fasching said.
Frustrated that his season was over, Clark began a long rehabilitation process, beginning with surgery to repair the muscle.
“I was in a straight arm cast. The cast went from my shoulder all the way down to the middle knuckle of my fingers,” Clark said.
“The two weeks I had my arm in a cast felt like a lifetime.”
Next, he wore a brace that kept his arm strength. On a weekly basis, the brace was adjusted slightly to let his arm been a little further than before.
“Each week, they gave me another degree of range of motion,” Clark said, noting that process took eight weeks and he wasn’t cleared by doctors to be active again until February.
“It was a long process. Every week I went to therapy twice a week. When I wasn’t at therapy I was at school with the trainers, working it and trying to get it back,” Clark said.
Despite a demanding rehab regimen, Fasching said his wide receiver still made time for the football team and encouraged others.
“Evan’s such a positive guy,” the coach said. “He was on the sideline every game and coming to practice and picking the guys up.”
To improve his physical conditioning and get a taste of competition, Clark joined the St. John’s track team in the spring.
“I had been out of sports for 10 to 12 weeks because of the injury. I wasn’t feeling like myself. I wasn’t feeling like an athlete,” Clark recalled.
Although he enjoyed track and competing with a new group of teammates, Clark said it felt good to be back on the gridiron this fall.
“I was really nervous. I was anxious to get back on the field,” Clark said. “Then the next thing you know, it all came back to me.”
Prior to the season, he put in extra work with Erdmann to build chemistry in the passing game.
“We really made it our mission – all the receivers and all the quarterbacks that wanted to make a difference this year – we all made sure, in the offseason, we got together enough and really gelled with each other,” Clark said.
He also has worked well with sophomore Ben Alvord, who assumed the starting quarterback role when Erdmann was injured.
“If you ask me, they’re both starting quarterbacks,” Clark said. “They both throw really great balls. They both command the offense exactly how they want it. I don’t really see a difference in them. They are definitely both more than capable of getting it done.”
“Our quarterbacks love working with him. He’s got a great rapport with them. He’s a very personable guy,” Fasching added. “Jackson connected with him right away this fall. They would stay after practice and throw extra patterns and things like that, work on routes – all those things that go above and beyond.”
Clark’s 10 touchdown receptions this season are currently tied for second most in Division III, and he’s averaging 23.8 yards per catch.
In Saturday’s 49-0 triumph over Augsburg, Clark caught three passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s got incredible speed. Certainly, in my time here at St. John’s, he’s the fastest guy that we’ve ever had,” Fasching said, adding Clark ran an electronically timed 4.4 second 40-yard dash. “That’s probably his biggest strength. He’s so fast, once he gets the ball, he can break every play. Every time he gets the ball, there’s a chance he can take it the whole way.”
Clark said the team’s chemistry is the biggest reason the Johnnies have begun the season 5-1 overall. He said there are no negative moments, and Fasching believes Clark is a big reason for that.
The coach called Clark an upbeat, vocal player. But Fasching also added that the senior wideout leads by example through his work ethic.
“I noticed last week at practice, he was talking to one of the defensive backs about how the defensive back should play him when he lines up in his position,” Fasching said. “He just does a lot of things that promotes team togetherness, team unity. And he’s a great kid off the field.”
Through six games, the coach has seen some great things from his team. But he is quick to add that the Johnnies haven’t played to their full potential yet.
“We’re glad where we’re at, but we know there’s a lot of work still to do,” Fasching said, noting that winning a conference championship and making a strong playoff run are expectations for St. John’s.
Clark agreed that the Johnnies have room to improve. But he likes the way things look for remainder of the year.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this season, already,” Clark said. “But I think we’re handling adversity pretty well and I think we’re on route for a really good season this year.”
Tommies survive Cobbers’ trickery
Concordia-Moorhead had St. Thomas on the ropes when Jason Montonye scored a touchdown on an 89-yard hook-and-ladder play. The score gave the Cobbers a 20-16 lead with 29 seconds remaining.
However, the Tommies rallied and drove 56 yards in three plays – capped by Alex Fenske’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Nick Waldvogel – to secure a wild 23-20 victory.
“When there’s time on the clock, all we do is stay positive and work hard,” UST coach Glenn Caruso said after the game in an interview with the Fargo Forum.
Fenske finished the game with 373 yards passing and two touchdowns while Waldvogel amassed 154 yards receiving on 11 catches.
The Cobbers’ scoring play was just their second completed pass of the day. Chad Johnson led the way on the ground with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts.
IIAC showdown set
Dubuque and Coe both won this weekend, setting up an undefeated IIAC showdown. Both squads enter Saturday’s game at Chalmers Field in Dubuque at 6-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play.
Conor Feckley threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score while the defense registered four interceptions in Dubuque’s 42-23 win over Nebraska Wesleyan.
Meanwhile, Gavin Glen’s 1-yard run with 1:26 to play lifted Coe over Central, 33-30. Glenn also threw for 232 yards while Trevor Heitland racked up 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Number of the week
17,535 – as in the number of people at Perkins Stadium who watched No. 2 UW-Whitewater host No. 5 UW-Oshkosh in a battle of WIAC powers. The attendance figure is the largest total recorded at a Division III football game, bettering the previous mark of 17,327 set at the 2015 Tommie-Johnnie game at Clemens Stadium. The Warhawks beat the Titans Saturday, 17-14, as Drew Patterson scored on a 16-yard run with 55 seconds to play. In the past three weeks, UW-Whitewater has defeated NAIA No. 2 Morningside, then-No. 8 UW-Platteville and No. 5 UW-Oshkosh. The Warhawks’ next game is at undefeated UW-La Crosse.
The rest of the West
Mikey Arkans returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown in Linfield’s 48-10 win at Pacific. … Quinn Buschbacher and Dan Arnold combined for 13 receptions, 144 receiving yards and four touchdowns during UW-Platteville’s 47-31 win at UW-Stevens Point. … MacMurray handed Northwestern (Minn.) its first loss, 38-14. Chazz Middlebrook racked up 176 rushing yards and two scores in the win. … Luther’s Brady Letney and Christian Moore combined for 300 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 24-17 win at Simpson. … Hamline improved to 4-1 overall as Justice Spriggs racked up 248 yards passing and four touchdown throws in a 34-16 win over St. Olaf. … Travis McMillion intercepted two passes and recorded nine tackles to help Pacific Lutheran top Willamette, 30-10. … Claremont-Mudd-Scripps scored 24 straight points bridging the second and fourth quarters on its way to beating Occidental, 45-28. Garrett Cheadle rushed for 214 yards and five touchdowns in the victory. … Kyle Stepka fired five touchdown passes in St. Scholastica’s 45-7 victory at Iowa Wesleyan. … Tyler Jenkins scored three times on the ground and Tarek Yaeggi threw for two more scores as UW-La Crosse handled UW-Stout, 42-6. … The Redlands defense generated three takeaways and four quarterback sacks in a 49-14 win at La Verne. … George Fox picked up its first win of the season – a 52-13 decision at Lewis and Clark. Trevor Daniels had 115 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. … Sawyer Moon and Travon Hearns each threw two touchdown passes to power UW-River Falls past UW-Eau Claire, 41-21. … Eureka’s LeAnthony Reasnover carried the ball 38 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Red Devils past Westminster (Mo.), 27-18. … Behind three touchdown passes from Matt Sacla, including a 70-yard strike to Dylan Binion, Wartburg defeated Loras, 38-30. … Gunnar Bloom scored four rushing touchdowns and Bryce Marquardt added 102 yards receiving and a pair of scores in Bethel’s 56-8 win at Carleton. … Evan Guffey and Kyle Petermeier each caught a touchdown pass in Minnesota-Morris’ 31-7 win over Martin Luther. … Duke DeGaetano scored three rushing touchdowns while Garrett McKay caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two scores in Whitworth’s shootout win over Puget Sound, 56-32. … Jacob Isabel and Ethen Weinstein combined for 210 receiving yards and two touchdowns as Chapman took down Whittier, 34-10. … Edward Sias threw three touchdown passes, including two to Ryan McGee, to help Pomona-Pitzer get past Cal Lutheran, 31-27. … Crown’s Ryan Synoground found Nick McCormick for a 16-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining, but his pass attempt on the ensuing 2-point conversion fell incomplete and Greenville escaped with a 34-33 win. George Harris had three touchdown passes for the Panthers.
Seven teams from the West Region were ranked in this week’s Top 25 poll, including six in the top-10.
UW-Whitewater remained ranked No. 2 and received three first place votes while St. Thomas stayed put at No. 4 and was given one first place vote. Although suffering a loss at Whitewater, UW-Oshkosh held steady at No. 5.
UW-Platteville will spend another week ranked No. 7 and Linfield remained ranked No. 8. St. John’s climbed one spot to No. 10 in this week’s poll.
Dubuque moved up two spots and is ranked No. 21.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (40), Whitworth (24), Coe (17), UW-Stevens Point (4) and Concordia-Moorhead (2) all received votes this week.
Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.