GALLAGHER: Briar Cliff star refuses to sulk after career-ending break

December 16, 2018

SIOUX CITY -- Erich Erdman pushes himself into the new Briar Cliff Hall of Fame suite above Ray Nacke Court at the Newman Flanagan Center on campus. He occupies a wheelchair marked, “Briar Cliff” in marker on the back. Erdman wraps a stocking cap on his right foot, offering warmth for toes that emerge from the end of a cast.

It’s a Thursday afternoon and Erdman has just completed his fifth final exam. He possesses a 3.82 grade-point average, a winning smile and a sharp sense of humor that, throughout the week, he’s used as a bit of a crutch, pun intended.

One needs crutches of the literal and figurative kind after fracturing a right fibula and bones in the right ankle and foot. Erdman, a two-time, first-time All-Great Plains Athletic Conference player, also tears two tendons while making a defensive play one week earlier. It’s the kind of play he’s made thousands of times in a basketball career that will one day culminate with his name showing in the room in which he sits, this BCU Hall of Fame.

“The Dordt player was going in for a shot from the left side and I jumped up to defend him,” he says. “I think I came down on his foot. I maybe bounced once and I think it was that, the second landing, that did it.”

I attend the game that night, and, like the select BC games I watch, I follow Erdman as he cuts in, cuts out, dashes across and works his magic on the floor. As a fan, I enjoy his smile as much as I appreciate his shooting, passing and communicating. While there isn’t much to him -- he’s listed at 5-feet 11-inches and 175 pounds -- his game roars.

The gym falls silent when he falls. Both the Charger and the Dordt faithful politely clap and wish for the best as Erdman drapes his arms around the shoulders of two others and hops off to the training room. While there, trainer Ellen Kluth, performs a squeeze test on his lower leg. Erdman, who says he’s suffered multiple sprained ankles through the years, grows apprehensive. This, he says, feels much different. The pain shoots up and down his leg.

“Ellen and I could feel a click in the leg,” he remembers. “I knew it wasn’t good.”

As Jessica Sandbulte, another student trainer, updates Erdman on the score, relaying that the Chargers have won, Kluth places his leg in an air cast for a trip to Unity Point Health-St. Luke’s for X-rays. Films show fractures and torn tendons. Again, not good.

A surgeon at Dakota Dunes, South Dakota delivers bad news the next morning. Edrman is joined by his immediate family and BCU Head Coach Mark Svagera. Surgery is required in a week or so, just after finals. Having played too many games this season, a redshirt option is out of the question. Erich Erdman’s playing career at BCU is over.

Erdman remembers getting the news, a finality that’s worse than 50 turnovers. “I began to cry,” the 22-year-old says. “My parents hugged me. They cried.”

Amid the tears, Svagera offers a hug and tells Erdman his role has changed for this team. He’ll be another set of eyes and ears, a consumer of game film, a watcher on the court, a constant course of encouragement for his teammates.

“Your role hasn’t diminished,” Svagera says. “You can do anything you wish to for your team.”

It takes several minutes and a trip back to the waiting room for Erdman to offer a punch line. He thinks of his twin brother, Ethan Erdman, who joins Bobby Beach-Pattison as student coaches on the BCU bench, a pair of former Charger players who don Charger sweater vests come game day. “I turned to my dad and said, ‘I guess it’s time for me to find a sweater vest,’” Erich Erdman says.

Erdman joins his team on the bench two days later as Briar Cliff blows out Dakota State at the Newman Flanagan. He offers moral support and more (emphasis more) as the Chargers fall at Northwestern College on Wednesday.

“I told the guys they’re ready for their new roles, to fill my minutes, that’s why they’ve worked so hard,” he says. “If anyone isn’t ready for their new role, it’s me.”

He considers the loss on Wednesday at Northwestern, a place he considered attending before landing at Briar Cliff, and promises the team will bounce back. After Friday’s surgery, he heads home to recuperate while devouring game film and game plans. He’ll be in contact with this teammates, offering points from his new perspective.

And while he’s incredibly sorry for himself and his team, he’ll do his best to refrain from dwelling on it. A conference MVP candidate still seeks the best for his Chargers. “I try to tell myself that I’m still healthy,” says Erdman, who still considers the prospect of basketball on the professional level somewhere at some point. “This injury isn’t a terminal disease. I’m still around the guys and the coaches I love. We’re a team, like family, and we’re around a game we love.

“I can sulk and bring the team down, but that does nobody any good,” he says.

As his teammates report for a film session late in the afternoon, the dynamic guard who rates in the top 10 in five basketball categories at Briar Cliff smiles and offers another punchline. “I’ve been debating two career choices: Either coaching or physical therapy,” he says. “And over the next three months, I’m going to get A LOT of both!”

Before closing, Erdman thanks me for the interview, and asks if he could use this forum to pass along his gratitude to his family, the team, the Briar Cliff community, the GPAC and a number of his opponents, guys like Ty Hoglund, of Dakota Wesleyan, and Parker Mulder, of Northwestern College, people who reached out via text, voice, Twitter and more, all of whom offered their support and prayers.

Even guys at Morningside College, the Chargers’ crosstown rival, he says, are “good dudes, a couple of them attend church with me at Sunnybrook.”

“This has showed me the class we have throughout the GPAC,” Erdman says with a nod. “Beyond basketball, I really feel blessed by my opponents, friends and all those in the community who prayed for me and reached out. It means a lot.”

A winner we’ve watched excel on the court the past four years demonstrates his championship form off the court, too.

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