By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
Brady Ernst didn’t play football as a sophomore after breaking his arm. Fans of Clinton High School athletics were aware of his talents on the basketball floor and the high jump pit in track, but he was an unknown on the football field entering his junior season.
It didn’t take long to introduce the 6-foot-8 receiver to the Mississippi Athletic Conference. But the time his junior season was over, Ernst showed he was a pretty fair football player, too, earning first-team all-conference honors today when the MAC released its postseason honors.
“He’s definitely a real athletic kid who continually improved,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “He has great hands, and he became more and more physical because people were jamming him on the line.”
Ernst finished the season with 27 receptions for 437 yards, a 16.2-yard-a-catch average. He tied for the league lead with 11 touchdown catches.
“He gave us a great threat, especially when we got close to the end zone,” Camp said. “After the first game, there were not many, if any (catches), that that were wide open. He had to earn them.”
Ernst was the lone River King to earn first-team honors after the team finished in a four-way tie for fourth place with a 4-5 record and went 4-6 overall. Clinton lost in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs to Cedar Rapids Xavier, which on Friday advanced to the state finals for the second year in a row.
Clinton put one player, senior defensive back Alex Caldwell, on the second team, while seniors Ben Lauritzen (punter), Evan Gerdes (center) and Dustin Caldwell (defensive back) were named to the third team, as was junior defensive end Thomas Smith.
Seniors Eric Maddasion (quarterback), Austin Reyhons (tight end), Luke Laufenberg (wide receiver), Jake Espey (wide receiver), Trent Hessing (tackle), Duncan Winoski (guard) and the Caldwell twins (both running backs) received honorable mention honors on offense. Earning that honor on the defensive side were linemen Darian Witt and Kurtis Williams, and linebackers Kristian Bahnsen and Jordan Chapman. All but Bahnsen, a junior, were seniors.
“You always hope for more, but I’m happy for the kids who got (the honors),” Camp said.
Alex Caldwell ranked fifth in the MAC with 103 tackles, 56 solos and 47 assists, despite playing a large portion of the season with a broken thumb that required midseason surgery.
“I thought he got off to a great year, then broke his thumb, which slowed him on offense and made him one-armed on defense for a couple of games,” Camp said. “We used him as a cornerback or safety, to bring him down as a linebacker.”
Dustin Caldwell, who led Clinton’s rushing attack with 751 yards on 142 carries, was the River Kings’ second-leading tackler with 83.
“He did a great job on both sides of the ball for us,” Camp said. “He was our strong safety, a quasi linebacker, and pretty aggressive.”
Smith, who also missed time because of an injury, was a disruptive force on defense. Of his 34 tackles, 14 were for lost yardage, and he also tied for third in the MAC with six sacks.
“Thomas was a real explosive player when he was real healthy,” Camp said. “He went from linebacker to defensive end because of the personnel we had.”
Camp said the honors for Gerdes and Lauritzen came to players not in positions to stand out.
“Evan, what a great honor for him,” Camp said. “It’s well-deserved. He’s a guy who had to come up and make a lot of calls at the line, and as guys got hurt, more responsibility fell on him. Ben did a nice job improving as the year went on.”
Davenport Assumption’s Jake Gervase was named Player of the Year on offense and shared that honor on defense with Sam Ambrose of Bettendorf. Assumption’s Wade King was named Coach of the Year.