The converted linebacker has found success at defensive end for the Vikings, ranking second on the team in tackles through five games this fall.
“It was a hard transition right away because I hadn’t played defensive line my entire life. It was kind of an adjustment,” said Gerhardt, who went to Valley City High School. “I think I’m figuring it out and doing pretty well for myself right now.”
Gerhardt is averaging 9.8 tackles per game, including a 20-tackle effort against Dickinson State on Sept. 26. The Blue Hawks (7-0) earned a 27-13 victory in that game, handing Valley City State (4-1) its lone loss this season. The rematch is at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, in Valley City.
Valley City State freshman defensive end Riley Gerhardt is second on the team in tackles through five games. Zachary Lucy Photography photo
Dickinson State would clinch the North Star Athletic Association football championship with a victory. Valley City State would remain in the title hunt with a win. The Blue Hawks have won the previous five league crowns.
“Our guys understand that piece of it,” Vikings head coach Dennis McCulloch said. “That’s really what it’s about now, us proving that we have that opportunity to win a conference championship. That’s got to be done on the football field. Dickinson is very good.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Gerhardt, who also played on the offensive line in high school, was a first-team all-state linebacker in his final season with the Hi-Liners. He played linebacker through the first game this season at Valley City State.
Gerhardt then got moved to defensive end to fill a need at that position.
“We need some help there,” McCulloch said. “Every opportunity he’s gotten, he’s very impressive in what he’s doing. We just didn’t want to take him off the field after that.”
Valley City State freshman defensive end Riley Gerhardt has 40 tackles over the past three games for the Vikings. Zachary Lucy Photography photo
Gerhardt has 40 tackles over the past three games, including 12 tackles in a 25-21 victory against Waldorf (Iowa) University on Oct. 17. The Vikings didn’t play last weekend after their game was postponed for health and safety concerns.
Gerhardt said when he first got moved to defensive end he was caught off guard, surprised his name was at the top of the defensive end depth chart.
“I thought they were kind of joking with me,” Gerhardt said. “I’m going to do what I can to help the team. I’ve kind of adjusted to make myself a better defensive lineman.”
Gerhardt said one of the toughest adjustments he had to make in the position change was getting comfortable in his three-point stance.
“I wasn’t very coordinated with that right away,” Gerhardt said.
While undersized, McCulloch said Gerhardt has the physicality to hold up against larger offensive lineman. Coming out of high school, McCulloch said he knew Gerhardt was an explosive athlete.
“The athleticism has always been there for him,” McCulloch said. “He’s done an amazing job. His strength matches a lot of the guys. He’s figured out the ways to work within his abilities and size to be able to play that position. … He’s going to play heavy on that tackle. He’s got to play physical with that guy.”
McCulloch added he’s been impressed with Gerhardt’s work ethic and his ability to quickly learn new techniques and schemes.
“We know he’s not going to be perfect in everything he’s doing. Those are things you’ve got to expect,” McCulloch said. “But the amount of plays that he’s making, that kind of overrides (everything).”
Gerhardt’s 49 total tackles are second on the team behind junior linebacker Sal Avila, who has 54. Gerhardt also has 1.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss.
Gerhardt is proud of how the Vikings have operated this season during the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused disruptions throughout the season.
“I think our team has dealt with adversity really well with this whole COVID thing. We get thrown different things every week. Our team has come out every day and faced adversity really well,” Gerhardt said. “We’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize and keep looking forward.”