Craig Gerrits made a strong debut last Friday.
The Wrightstown senior caught a touchdown, helped limit the league-leading passer from last year to 61 yards and showed off his range on kickoffs during the Tigers’ 30-7 victory over Kewaunee in an Olympian/Packerland-Large opener.
You also could say Gerrits made a nice return, considering it was his first football game since sixth grade.
“It felt good to be back out there,” he said. “I missed getting a bunch of long-run touchdowns, so that made me want to come back.”
After playing soccer for the past five years, the 5-foot-8, 155-pounder was talked into giving football another try last winter by Jon Braeger, a senior running back and defensive back on Wrightstown’s WIAA Division 4 state championship team last season.
Braeger thought Gerrits could handle the kicking and punting duties and eventually work his way into playing offense or defense. He probably didn’t foresee Gerrits filling his roles on both sides of the ball by the first game of the season, though.
“I got a little frustrated at the start because of plays, trying to remember all those because in soccer you don’t have to really know any plays,” said Gerrits, who along with senior Evan Kahler, is starting at cornerback after playing soccer last year.
“As practice progressed, I started to get it and earned my position at defensive back.”
An injury in the backfield during a scrimmage then forced him into action on offense.
“We thought to throw him on offense and defense was probably a little too much for him,” Wrightstown co-coach Steve Klister said. “But with Caleb Emmer spraining his knee at that point, Craig stepped in and did a real nice job for us.”
A first-team all-conference performer in soccer as a junior, Gerrits’ bloodlines suggest he’d be a natural no matter what sport he is playing.
His brother Nicholas was a member of the 2007 Tigers soccer team that finished as the D3 state runner-up, while his cousin Matt was part of the 2006 D4 state championship football team.
Senior fullback/linebacker Riley Schussler isn’t surprised at how quickly Gerrits has adjusted to putting on the pads again, having remembered how well his classmate played the game in fifth and sixth grades.
“He was always a speedster. You’d give him the ball on the outside and he’d outrun everyone,” Schussler said.
“That’s pretty much the same with him. His leg is such huge threat now, though.”
That’s what caught people’s attention right out of the gate against the Storm. Gerrits booted his first two kickoffs out of the end zone.
“I wasn’t really surprised, because in practice I was doing the same thing,” he said. “The wind played little bit of a factor on the touchbacks, but I have done it without the wind as well.”
Gerrits, who made a 34-yard field goal against Kewaunee, said he made a field goal from 58 yards during the summer and would like to get a chance to try one from 50 yards in a game.
“Our first drive we kind of stalled and usually in that situation we try to go for the first down,” Klister said. “But I had the confidence in Craig to go out there and it felt pretty good to come away with some points to start the game.
“A 50-yarder at the end of a tight game? I guess I would have confidence in him to give him a chance from there to win it.”