Jackson Erdmann was a freshman at St. John’s, his college football career ahead of him, when he got a text from assistant coach Brandon Novak.
I’m going to hook you up with this guy, Tom Linnemann, it said. Former quarterback here. He’d like to meet you.
Erdmann, a quarterback who was about to take over the reins of the Johnnies offense, was intrigued.
“Coach said, ‘Well, he’s a bit eccentric,’ ” Erdmann recalled this week. “I was like, ‘OK?’ He got me on the phone and the first thing he said was, ‘What’s up, young buck?’ Weeks later, he came up and took me out to lunch.”
Welcome to the club.
Saturday, Erdmann will lead the Johnnies in the NCAA Division III semifinals at Wisconsin-Whitewater. It is another step in a dynamic career that has seen Erdmann rewrite just about every passing record in the storied program’s history. It is another step in an attempt to win a fifth national title for the school.
He will not be alone.
And we’re not just talking about the well-oiled machine that is the Johnnies, who have navigated a high-scoring high-wire act through the D-III playoffs to get to this point. We’re talking about the fraternity of ex-Johnnies quarterbacks who will be watching his every move, cheering his every pass — all while believing Erdmann, now a senior, is the best quarterback to ever play at St. John’s.
“This is a quarterback club,” Erdmann said. “This is what it’s all about. Mentoring me, telling me how it is. What to expect. And it’s pretty cool.”
Building on a legacy
Linnemann, who took the Johnnies to the title game in 2000, remembers getting a note from Willie Seiler — a St. John’s QB in the early 1990s — shortly after his first game. Nice game, it said. Welcome to the club.
Decades of success, playoff appearances and four national titles developed a legacy and a devotion of former players. Current coach Gary Fasching, who took over from the legendary John Gagliardi, likes to say he took over a program whose foundation was built years ago.
“Our job is to keep building the structure,” Fasching said. “We’re trying to continue what’s been done in the past.”
To that end, former players are always welcome, encouraged at practice, used as a resource.
But even within that paradigm, the QB club is special.
“They’re just really good people,” said Ryan Keating, quarterback of the most recent Johnnies national championship team in 2003. “A lot of St. John’s players are. But the quarterbacks all seem to be good people. Successful. It just keeps rolling. And Jackson’s just the latest iteration of that.”
Not surprising. Gagliardi let his QBs call the plays. That kind of freedom is going to attract a certain sort of player. Fasching still gives his QBs a lot of leeway. Erdmann can audible out of a play at any time. In the hurry-up offense he has free reign, which Fasching said he suspects is why Erdmann uses that attack so much.
And then there is the pressure of being the team’s QB, period.
Linnemann said it’s the best job on campus. Well, certainly one with a lot of pressure. So who better to talk to than someone who’s been through it?
“After the games, the former quarterbacks come up and talk to you,” Linnemann said. “It’s a very rare group, quarterbacks who have started for St. John’s. It’s always your job to kind of raise the next one.”
This is hands-on stuff. The Linnemann-Erdmann mentor-mentee relationship is very real. They talk often, usually FaceTime before and after games. They talk strategy, game plans, life.
Last fall, Keating brought his family back to St. John’s, and his memory is of Erdmann interacting with his kids.
Back in 1976, Jeff Norman quarterbacked the Johnnies to a title, running a quadruple-option offense. Since then offenses have changed, but people? Not so much. Norman recalls first getting to know Erdmann. A greeting turned into a dinner, which turned into 2½ hours.
“He’s 21 and I’m 64,” Norman said. “We’d never met before, but we had so much in common. We talked St. John’s, talked football. When you quarterback there you’re in a fraternity, part of a group that will have your back.”
Before each game, Norman sends a text to Erdmann. Maybe a photo, a thought, encouragement.
Erdmann always responds immediately.
He’s the best
Here is a fraternity consensus: For all the quarterbacks for all the teams and all the titles, Erdmann is the best.
He has the advantage of a game that has skewed to the pass. He is playing in a time of gaudy numbers and high-scoring games.
This year, he leads Division III in passing yards with 4,698. He is 370 yards shy of the D-III single-season record of 5,068 yards. For his career, Erdmann has a team and MIAC record 11,297 passing yards. The five biggest passing-yardage games in Johnnies history all belong to him.
“Jackson is the best quarterback in the history of St. John’s,” Linnemann said. “I think he’s the GOAT [greatest of all time]. I know he’s the GOAT. It’s crazy how a 400-yard game for him is par for the course. He sees everything. I believe Jackson will be on an NFL team next year.”
Said Fasching: “I guess if you’re talking about numbers, touchdown passes, yards, things like that? Yes. We’ve had some great ones. We’re in a different time, with the pass game, the spread offense. Things like that.”
Relayed this information, Erdmann laughed. “There is a lot of history here,” he said. “A lot of great players, a lot of great quarterbacks. People speculate on things. All I’m focusing on is getting that national championship for this team right now.”
But he knows this: His four years at St. John’s couldn’t have gone any better. Coming out of Rosemount High School, he tried being a preferred walk-on at Penn State, despite an incredible visit to St. John’s. But his return has gone pretty well.
“I don’t think I could have dreamed a better situation,” he said. “This has shattered every expectation. Coming back here was the best decision I ever made.”
Little does he know that his job as a St. John’s quarterback is really just beginning. He will soon be doing for some young kid what past QBs did for him.
“They had an impact on me as a person, a player,” Erdmann said. “At St. John’s you pass it on. I hope I’ll be in position where I can make the same impact.”
Division III semifinals
St. John’s at Wis.-Whitewater, 2 p.m. Saturday