By Jeremy Stafford
WINCHESTER -- Every year there seems to be that one player at Shenandoah whose motor never quits -- a player who, as Hornets coach Paul Barnes puts it, "goes 100 miles an hour every play."
Last year that player was defensive end Mo Salih, who finished his senior campaign with a Shenandoah record 16.5 tackles for a loss.
This season that player appears to be sophomore Nick Erdman, the Hornets' strong-side defensive end.
After starting nine games his freshman season, accumulating 12 tackles in the process, Erdman came into Shenandoah's 2010 preseason camp in superb condition.
Since the end of the 2009 season, Erdman gained about 25 pounds, but still kept lean enough to pass Barnes' preseason conditioning tests.
"Coach told me that I really just couldn't be content with how I played my freshman year," Erdman said. "He said, 'You need to really work out this season and make sure that you come back better than you were,' and I really focused this summer on hitting the weight room really hard and making sure I came in shape."
It wasn't difficult to do: All it involved was eating his "mom's home cooking," lifting as hard as he could in the gym, and running as hard as he could out of the gym.
By the end of the summer, Erdman was running 110-yard sprints 20 times -- Barnes' conditioning test requires players to run the sprints only 16 times.
"He's one of those guys, he's quiet, he doesn't say much, but he's always one that comes to work his hardest every day," SU quarterback Daniel Wright said. "He's out there giving 100 percent every day."
In addition to his being well-conditioned, Erdman came into this season with a wealth of experience playing in a three-man front -- important because Shenandoah switched to a 3-4 base defense this year.
In his three years playing at Cosby High School in Midlothian, Erdman headed the Titans' 3-5 defense.
But he was in unfamiliar territory when, his freshman year at Shenandoah, he had to learn to play in what was then the Hornets' 4-3 defense. By the time the Hornets got into the scrimmage portion of their schedule last season, Erdman saw that a lot of players, in the heat of the moment, were missing their assignments.
So Erdman, at the urging of defensive line coach Kalvin Oliver, drank in the Hornets' playbook. He earned himself a spot in the starting lineup, then got his 12 tackles.
After only three games in this familiar three-man front, Erdman already has 13 tackles. His 4.5 tackles for a loss is tied with linebacker John Redmond for most on the team. The 21 yards for a loss he's tackled players for is the most on the team.
He also has two sacks for a loss of 17 yards and a fumble recovery.
"I was actually pretty excited," Erdman said of SU's defensive switch. "It's a different challenge overall for our defense, but for me it's like home."
In the Hornets' 3-4 defense, though, the bread and butter lies with the four linebackers, whose stats have swelled from last season.
Corey Giffing leads Shenandoah with 35 tackles, Redmond has 24 tackles, and Blake Campbell leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
"He's been keeping guys off the linebackers so the linebackers can make plays," Barnes said of Erdman. "But Nick is really learning his position, and he only will get better."
But if there is one part of his game Erdman says needs improvement, it's his pass defense. Though he's able to regularly get to the quarterback on pass plays -- his sacks are proof enough he has the ability -- Erdman said he feels most comfortable defending against the run.
With Shenandoah (0-3) opening its USA South conference play against Christopher Newport (0-3) today at 7 p.m. at Shentel Stadium, Erdman will have plenty of opportunities to showcase any improvement he's made on his pass rush during SU's recent bye week.
Between quarterbacks Matt Long and Christian Woelfel-Monsivais, the Captains have completed 27 passes for 470 yards -- the majority of CNU's 753 total offensive yards.
But there are other reasons Erdman's anticipating tonight's game.
First, he'd love for SU to get its first win of the season against a conference rival, especially if it means pummeling Christopher Newport to an 0-4 record.
Second, Erdman said that, because he's familiar with a few of the CNU players -- freshman kicker Stephen Denuel, to name one -- tonight's game has an added dimension to it.
"It's a very personal game because a lot of my friends go there," Erdman said. "And I want this game, and it's our first conference game, so we need to get off to a good start.
"We need this win."