For Davenport senior Judge Erickson, outside of being an all-district football player, a multi-sport athlete, a student with a 3.96 GPA or the mayor’s son, he is also a coach.
The opportunity came last spring as the local Extreme Youth Flag Football team needed a coach just before their season started.
With a vacancy present, Leslie Uptain, the mother of one of the players and the Academic and Career Advisor at Davenport High School, quickly thought of Judge Erickson.
Having known him from an Emerging Leaders Program she sponsored as well as seeing him at community events, Uptain was excited to ask him about coaching the team late on a school day in the spring semester.
“I don’t want to interrupt academic time, so I was trying my hardest to wait because I was excited,” Uptain said. “I had an idea and was excited for what it could mean not just for my kiddo, but for him and his opportunity with that, too. So I knocked on the door.”
The impromptu visit startled him, as he initially thought he was in trouble.
“I was chilling out in my seventh-period class, and all of a sudden, Ms. Uptain walks in the door and says to my teacher, ‘Can I borrow Judge?’” Erickson said. “When an administrator or someone who has power in school [asks] for your name, specifically, you’re like, ‘Oh. What did I do?’”
Uptain pulled him into the hallway and asked if he would be interested in coaching the Extreme flag football team. Although the offer came out of the blue, he found the idea exciting enough to say yes.
With a newfound opportunity in front of him, Judge Erickson sought help from his father, Mayor of Garden Ridge Robb Erickson, and his close friend, Sean McLendon, to be assistant coaches.
Success came soon for the group and the then-named Hawks as the team went undefeated in the spring, winning the Extreme Flag Football Championship. This past fall, Judge Erickson led the newly-named Wolves to the championship game again.
Throughout his son’s life, Robb Erickson has been coaching Judge in multiple sports. That experience allowed Judge Erickson to implement some of his father’s lessons.
“Some of those lessons are exactly the lessons that my dad taught me when I was at their age,” Judge Erickson. “If you get down, always remember to get back up… If life knocks you down, you just got to get back up and face it. Another one was, ‘What’s the most important play? …The next one.’ That stuck with me for my entire football career. You make a mistake. You miss a tackle. You drop a catch, you fumble the ball. Don’t worry about that, and just focus on the next play. Learn what you did wrong and learn from that and focus on the next play and make yourself better.”
With an eagerness to teach life lessons through the game, Judge Erickson wanted to be something other than a demonstrative leader, opting to be more measured.
“[If] they do one thing wrong, you can’t yell at them because they don’t know what they’re doing wrong,” Judge Erickson said. “You have to go up to them and calmly explain to them. You have to get down to their level. You have to understand how they’re feeling. Some of these kids haven’t played football in their entire life before. [The game] is completely new to them. You have to be sympathetic towards them. You have to understand where they’re coming from and how you can tell them what to do without yelling at them or raising your voice.”
That leadership style is intuitive for him and even translated to when he played on Friday nights as a co-captain.
“He leads by example,” Davenport head football coach J.D. Zimmerhanzel said. “Kids just want to be around him. He’s always positive.”
Judge Erickson plans to continue coaching the team in the spring, but the experience has made him want to go into teaching in the future, and he credits the coaches in his life.
“I spent so much time there with them in the mornings and the afternoons during the day, so that they start to become family and you start to have a love for them,” Judge Erickson said. “They coached you, and they trust you, and you trust them. I wanted to do what they did for me and give back… I want to give what my dad gave me and give it back.”