Napoleon senior Justin Aldrich personifies the "team" player.

Since he started playing varsity football his sophomore season, Aldrich has been filling holes due to injuries or any other cause for the Wildcats. He has been so successful Napoleon football coach Tory Strock finds it hard to get him off the field.

"Justin is one of those guys, he’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife," said Strock. "Sometimes you take for granted he’ll always be there for you because he has been. Last year in the Maumee game (Jerrett) Gerdeman was out sick most of that week. Justin started that game and did tremendous, we didn’t miss a beat. He’s what some coaches would call a program kid, plays wherever you need him, whenever you need him.

"He kind of flies under the radar because he’s what I call low maintenance," added Strock. "He’s reliable. He’s there everyday and you can count on him."

Aldrich said he is used to "being the next guy up," filling spots wherever he is needed.

"Since like sophomore year they put me in for a few other hurt guys," Aldrich said. "It was the same last year with Tate Rubinstein getting hurt. I filled in for him. This year with Jarrett (Gerdeman) and Mikey (Chipps) both getting hurt. I’ve been filling roles my whole life. It’s what I’m used to.

"Last year there were two games I played outside linebacker and inside linebacker and running back," he added. "It’s a lot to memorize."

Aldrich hasn't just been a filler. He has become one of the most valuable players for Napoleon, especially on defense, where he earned second-team honors in the Northern Lakes League and Northwest District in 2019.

"He’s more important, if I’m being honest, than he thinks he is," said Strock. "I think a lot of times there are guys that start both ways, like Gerdeman, and when guys don’t start both ways there is a tendency to think they’re not as important, but Justin is just as important as anyone on this team."

Last season, Aldrich finished with 36 tackles (19 solo), including two sacks. He also had two interceptions. On offense, he carried the ball 29 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns and also had a 48-yard TD reception.

He only played in nine games, tearing his ACL against Northview in the second-to-last game of the season. Aldrich missed the final game of the football season and all of the boys basketball campaign.

"That was really tough," said Aldrich, who also broke his leg before the start of his junior football season and broke his arm in eighth grade. "I love playing basketball, too. That’s one of my favorite sports, too. The first (basketball) game, me watching it, was really heartbreaking. Watching all my friends playing and not being able to do that."

Having gone through that has given Aldrich empathy for his teammates who have had to miss games this season for various reasons, especially Gerdeman, who injured his collarbone and is out indefinitely.

"It’s one of the worst feelings not being able to play the sport you love," said Aldrich. "I feel terrible for him. Just watching all your friends go out there and play and not be with them is one of the worst feelings."

Aldrich has had to move from outside to inside linebacker this season and in their last game against Bowling Green was the starting fullback on offense for the Wildcats.

He is currently third on the team in tackles with 28 (16 solo). He has also forced a fumble. Against Bowling Green Aldrich carried the ball 14 times for 53 yards and also had five tackles on defense (three solo).

For the season, he has 82 yards rushing on 28 carries and one TD.

Strock said Aldrich is a great example of this year's large senior class.

"First off there are 20 of them, so you can only have 11 on field at a time," said Strock. "All 20 can’t start, and we got some pretty good juniors, so you have to be selfless and put the team first to thrive in that situation. Being behind Jarrett at fullback, you know your opportunities are going to be few and far between. Again you have to be pretty tough mentally to continue to show up and work every day, knowing you are going to be limited offensively.

"The thing I admire about Justin is his perseverance," added Strock.

Aldrich said he loves playing defense.

"It’s a lot more fun hitting people and it’s always what I’ve been better at," he said. "I love hitting people. Whenever I’m running with the ball I don’t hit people as hard or when I’m blocking. I’m used to blocking. I’m usually blocking for Jarrett or Mikey. That’s my role."

The son of Dave and Kelly Aldrich of Napoleon said he is undecided about which college he wants to attend next year or his major. Aldrich has a 3.6 grade point average.

His focus is on football and making a deep playoff run.

"Our main thing is we want to win this next game so we can get Jarrett back for the second playoff game," Aldrich said. "We’re just playing for him mostly."

If the Wildcats are going to make a playoff push, Strock understands it will be on the back of players like Aldrich, who just go out and do the job they are asked.

"We talk all the time, some guys look the part, they’re just huge," said Strock. "Justin doesn’t wow you with any of the quote, unquote measurables … height, weight, speed, whatever, frame, but what we say about him is very simple, he’s just a really good football player. That is the most simplistic way to put it, but he just is. He’s just a really good football player, very sound and not flashy."

E-mail comments to jeffr@northwestsignal.net.

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