Halfway through the Midwest Conference season, Macalester College finds itself in the same position it was two years ago, standing at 4-1 with a perfect MWC record of 3-0. Two seasons ago it was a bruising and battering ground attack coupled with the brilliant play of QB Samson Bialostok that led the offense, and a defense that was relentless, beating teams with their play above the shoulders as much as with tackles, sacks, and turnovers.
Oddly, this season’s edition of the Fighting Scots only finds similarity in the record, as this has become a big play offense, attacking opposing defenses through the air, led by a host of talented sophomores that are leaving fans with the impression that this Scots team is only reaching the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they can accomplish over the next three years. This is an offense that is simply that good.
While this defense is no less intelligent than the group that helped to lead Macalester to their first playoff appearance in school history, this is a group that has a special kind of nasty to them. A relentless, physical group that will make a wide receiver have second thoughts about going over the middle or give pause to a quarterback that is considering running for a first down. It is a group that is smart, athletic, and downright nasty. It is a group that epitomizes the style of defense that Defensive Coordinator Marshall Mullenbach preaches and none has stood taller in that system than defensive end Nick Egersdorf.
The Paradox Begins
At 6-1, 208 pounds, Macalester Fighting Scots defensive end Nick Egersdorf can be a fairly imposing figure. His size alone makes him a daunting man but, as a defensive end, he does not have the kind of size and girth that football fans have become accustomed to seeing in those who man a position whose primary purpose is to chase after quarterbacks and take up space. He is frequently matched up against offensive lineman who are 60-pounds heavier or more than he is, yet is not overwhelmed, fearful, or even a little deterred, instead, seeing this as an opportunity to use his quick wits and impressive physical skills to outmaneuver and, yes, even overpower offensive lineman on his way to chase down opposing quarterbacks like an advancing cheetah chases down a fearful gazelle.
Yet, if you had the chance to meet Nick in person you would most likely find him to be a very soft spoken, kind-hearted, thoughtful young man. The neuroscience and philosophy double major student is not loud or rambunctious. He is not a Ray Lewis type with theatrical dances or a Richard Sherman who probably spends more time talking trash to opposing players than he does telling his wife and kids how much he loves them. That is not Nick’s style at all. He is a quiet man who speaks in gentle tones that would make him the perfect hypnotherapist.
Yet, when 1:00 PM comes around each Saturday afternoon, a light switch comes on that turns the 6-1, 208-pound student by week into the Macalester Scots version of the Incredible Hulk. No, he does not step into a phone booth wearing a preppy sweater and Dockers and come out as “Scots-Man.” Nick doesn’t get angry and then metamorphose into some giant green creature. He doesn’t even step into his Fighting Scots Cave and then come out with nifty gadgets that help him fight tyranny on the gridiron (at least not that anyone is aware of).
Instead, Nick brings a relentless motor to the football field, coupled with a brilliance and insight on how to use his skills to make himself a difference maker on the field. He is, as Scots Head Coach Tony Jennison calls him, the “Energizer Bunny” on the field, never quitting and simply wearing down any poor lineman who has the misfortune of attempting to block him all game. He has truly become a shining hero of what this coaching staff is looking from their defense each week.
Moving from One Kind of Hero to Another
Nick Egersdorf grew up in Rochester, MN, where he attended Mayo High School. There, he starred for his high school team, being named three times to the All-Conference team in football, and even proving his skills in other sports, four times earning All-Conference honors in track as a high jumper. That would become of great benefit later on. He also proved to be a brilliant student, earning Academic All-State honors in both football and track.
He had always loved football and proved to be quite skilled at it. After graduating, he wanted to continue his academic pursuits as well as remain on the gridiron, so he opted to join the Coast Guard Academy to be able to pursue both.
In his first two seasons at the school he mostly was a backup, as the coaches wanted to move him to the linebacker position. This was a move that Nick was hesitant to accept. It was not out of obstinance in any way. Instead, it was a realization of what his skill set was and how that best allowed him to succeed on the football field.
“Early on they tried to move me to linebacker in ninth grade and I didn’t like it. I told them that I would switch to defensive end. I started playing D-end in the eighth grade when I was just bigger than everyone else and I really liked that. Since then I’ve been getting to a point where I’m a smaller guy on the line so it’s a little extra challenge for me. When I went to the Coast Guard Academy they tried to switch me to linebacker again but I told them that I wanted to switch back. I never played D-end for the Coast Guard but I wound up playing nose tackle.”
Again, it wasn’t that he did not handle the position of linebacker well. The defensive end loved the one-on-one battles at the line, and thought that his ability to go right at an opposing offensive lineman worked to his advantage, even if the opponent had a significant weight advantage over him.
“Every time I go against people on the line that are so much bigger than me I realize that I need to wear them down and be faster than them in all aspects. I need to have my arms faster, my feet faster if I want to beat those guys. It’s not too hard.”
After his sophomore season Nick opted to love the Academy and looked to three Minnesota schools to be the place where he would finish his degree: St. Thomas, Hamline, and Macalester. He knew that the academic standards of all three were to his liking, but he also wanted the opportunity to stay on the football field and to be a guy who could contribute. Macalester was the clear choice.
“I knew Macalester was a liberal arts school so I wanted to get the most out of that aspect. I also really like the sciences and I knew that neuroscience was a huge field and I saw that this option looked like a very unique degree. They also gave me the chance to play football and I wanted that chance for sure.”
With his parents moving to the St. Paul area the choice seemed to be a natural one. He would be closer to his family so they could come to see him play, but he would also have the opportunity to play football and continue in his academic pursuits. It also helped that Coach Mullenbach and Coach Jennison went out of their way to invite Nick to be a part of the Scots program.
“I talked with Coach J (Jennison) and Coach Mullenbach, and Coach Mullenbach took me up as a recruit. I applied to all three of those schools and got accepted, but Macalester turned out to be by far the best option for me.”
A Perfect Fit
The 2014 season was Nick Egersdorf’s first season at the school and he became an impact player for a team that won the Midwest Conference in their first season in the league. Nick played in all 11-games, recording 26-tackles, including eight for a loss.
It was a great start to his abbreviated Macalester College career, and 2015 offered the opportunity for even greater things to come. However, an injury sidelined him just two-games into the season, and so the senior was redshirted, giving him an opportunity to return to the school for a fifth season of eligibility if he opted to do so.
With his academic goals not completely met yet, Nick was more than happy to return and he has been an absolute beast this season. Teamed with “rookie” Liam Peebles at the other defensive end position, the senior is fifth on the team in tackles with 26 in just five games, already tying his career high.
While that number has been impressive in and of itself, it has been his pursuit of the quarterback that has really been the key to his contribution for this team. Nick is tied for the lead in sacks in all of Division-III football, dropping the opposing signal callers eight times this season. He has recorded at least one sack in every game this season, including two in last week’s hard fought victory over Ripon College, where he recorded two-sacks and Peebles had three in the 16-8 victory.
He has been everything that the team could have hoped for when he opted to return, but his success is of no surprise to his head coach.
“Nick is such a great athlete. His high jumping ability really gives him a quick step that is hard for most lineman to stop,” explains Coach Jennison. “He just never stops and he simply wears down offensive linemen.”
For Nick, it is simply about the one-on-one battle. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the game for the senior as he tries to figure out how he will be smarter, quicker, and more agile in the battle.
“I like the instinctual part of it. I don’t have the best eyesight and so I try to just let myself react. Every snap is a challenge to beat the guy, especially when it’s a lineman. You can just see them sizing you up, and I know what’s going to go down. I like jumping around and running around reacting.”
Leaving His Mark Behind
The Macalester Scots record for sacks in a season is 16, held by Dean Larson in 1986. Half-way through the 2016 season, Nick Egersdorf is halfway to this mark and looks to have a real shot at making history, especially with the way he has played in this last two contests, recording two sacks in each game.
Whether he reaches the record is probably of little consequence to the senior. Like the Lone Ranger, Nick Egersdorf is not on the field looking for personal glory. He is not concerned with records or accolades. He simply wants to do what he can to help his team win games. He may not be Superman, the Lone Ranger, or Batman, but the defensive end is proving to be something that all of those men have in common; a person that others can look up to and respect. There is no doubt that the lower classmen of this team are learning a lot of brilliance, intelligence, and skill from Nick Egersdorf. Just don’t expect him to be too vocal about it.
By Robert Pannier