Chester’s game-winning field goal last Friday couldn’t have come from the foot of a more deserving or important member of the school’s football program.
John Erby is the kind of player that Chester football and its coach Victor Floyd needs right now.
“In my year and a half back he’s worked really hard making himself better as a football player, a receiver, a kicker, a punter, whatever we’ve asked him to do he’s worked at it relentlessly,” said Floyd, who is back at Chester after a hugely successful first run from 2004 to 2008.
Erby’s 28-yard field goal with 12 seconds left gave the Cyclones a marquee win over Lancaster, at the time ranked sixth in the state.
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John does a lot of things that go unnoticed. I thought it was good for him to have the opportunity to step up and make a play that made the difference.
Chester coach Victor Floyd
Chester was 8-22 the last three years and the program was rife with indiscipline when Floyd returned from Georgia in 2015. But the Cyclones have won three of their first four games this season and kids like Erby who stuck with the team through Floyd’s culling process are a big reason why.
“He’s not a follower,” said Floyd, leaning forward in his office chair Wednesday morning. “Most kids now, it’s all about the fad or what everybody else is doing. He’s his own person. It’s okay with him to be a little different. When you find kids that are comfortable in their own skin like that, usually you’re on to something.”
Erby is an unusual teenager in many ways.
▪ He is the football team’s leading receiver and handles all of the kicking and punting duties.
▪ He also has a 4.7 grade point average in honors classes and is ranked in the top-10 academically in Chester’s 11th grade.
▪ He plays on the Cyclones’ soccer and golf teams, qualifying for the golf state tournament each of the last two years. Erby has played golf with his dad since he was a toddler and can drive a ball around 300 yards off the tee.
▪ He is active in church and is one of 10 players selected by his coach to participate in the Cyclone Leaders are Readers initiative, in which Chester football players read to Chester Park elementary students every other Thursday.
He’s that rare high school student that is a favorite of teachers and classmates alike.
John Erby talks about his game-winning kick against Lancaster:
There’s got to be something Erby isn’t good at, right?
“He’s a pretty good kid. We’ve been blessed with a really obedient kid,” said his dad, John Erby, chuckling. “If you’re looking for something he could improve on, it’d be his golf game. But he doesn’t play as much as he used to.”
Moise Moctezuma-Santiago teaches Spanish at Chester. He remembers Erby sitting in the front row every class and finishing his work earlier than anyone else. Erby’s academic success was well received by his classmates, at least in the Spanish class.
“They didn’t push him away, they would actually ask him questions,” said Moctezuma-Santiago. “When we were playing a game they would joke, ‘we know John’s gonna win.’ Instead they tried to beat him. In a way, he was a motivation to the students around him.”
Floyd has seen that on the football field too. Erby is the team’s best blocking receiver and he often makes tackles on his kickoffs and punts. He’s a great example to his teammates and there was widespread joy that he was the one to bash through the game-winning points against Lancaster.
“You could tell by the way everyone reacted how excited everyone was,” Erby said.
His standout performances aren’t limited to the hours between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. He’s a very fundamentally sound and athletic football player, the latter showcased by his one-handed touchdown catch against Rock Hill last season.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Chester native doesn’t need football to get into college, but it could be a vehicle for him to reach even more substantial academic institutions like the service academies or the Ivy League. Floyd sends all of Erby’s info to both types of schools, though Erby himself would like to go to Clemson.
As Floyd said, Erby has “some avenues there that not your average Joe Mo can take advantage of.”
He’s got the right kind of coach at Chester. The elder John Erby said his son has flourished under Floyd’s disciplanarian style because he dislikes chaos.
Stuff you would see in a really bad neighborhood, you would see a football player in there. That doesn’t happen anymore. There’s a lot of people - if they’re still with us - staying out of trouble.
Chester’s John Erby has seen a huge change in the Cyclones football program since Victor Floyd came back
Erby keeps his life in order, beginning with school. His attention to academics was seared into him by his parents, John and Ellen, both successes in their own right. The elder John Erby played quarterback at Central State University in Ohio in the 1980s, before working as an air traffic controller and recently with the state’s education lottery. Ellen works in the movie industry with Lionsgate Entertainment (think Hunger Games). They no longer have to push their son in any aspect of life.
“He may have success and be good in certain areas but there’s always need for improvement,” said Erby’s dad, John. “That’s something we’ve always instilled in him.”
Erby isn’t so much a leader as he isn’t a follower; he makes his decisions without the over-weighted consideration of what others might think, rare among teens. He’s a place-kicker with annoyingly good grades that plays on the golf and soccer teams - grounds for getting crammed in a locker in some football programs - and yet he’s accepted and embraced by his peers.
“I feel like I’m just one of them,” said Erby. “Just one of the brothers.”
They’re lucky to have him.
Lewisville at Eau Claire, late
Spartanburg at Northwestern
Rock Hill at Dorman
Mallard Creek (N.C.) at South Pointe
Franklin Christian at Clover
York at Fort Mill
Lancaster at Nation Ford
Chester at Lower Richland
Great Falls at Carolina Wildcats
Indian Land at Chesterfield
*Games start at 7:30 p.m.