With stadiums holding more than 80,000 filled with fans, the excitement can reach a fever pitch and cause players to perform at less than their usual standards. That shouldn't be the case with defensive tackle D.J. Ernst from West Monroe High.
Playing for one of the most successful programs not only in Louisiana but also in the South, Ernst has experienced his share of big crowds and big games in the two seasons he's been a starter. As a junior his team traveled to Shreveport to face perennial powerhouse Evangel Christian at Independence Stadium. With a crowd of better than 30,000 in attendance, West Monroe defeated Evangel on the way to the state title game.
This season was no different as the end result was the same for West Monroe, a trip to the finals in the New Orleans Superdome against bitter rival Evangel. But the trip there wasn't the same as his team stumbled to a 3-3 start, including a loss to Evangel, before winning eight games in a row to make it to the finals once again.
While the end result wasn't pretty, a 35-4 loss, Ernst says that the experience was a fun one, but not something out of the ordinary. Playing in front of nearly 50,000 people in a high school game is something that, while he's not quite used to it, was just like every other game.
"We went 11-4 this year and were the state runner-up," Ernst tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "That would be what you consider a bad season at West Monroe. We got killed in the game. The main thing you can say about the state championship game is that you win it as a team and you lose it as a team.
"It's nice," Ernst says of playing in front of big crowds, "but it really doesn't faze any of us. I don't want to sound like we're bragging from West Monroe, but we probably average 11,000 people for home games. The more people you just kind of really get used to it. It's nice to play in front of that many people--don't get me wrong--but the football field is still the same size."
Ernst was one of the top performers at an Auburn summer camp back in July. Despite several higher-profile prospects in attendance, some of the high school coaches helping said that nobody was more impressive than Ernst. He also camped at Louisiana Tech, Arkansas and Southern Miss last summer.
Showing an impressive work ethic to go along with his solid fundamentals, the 6-2, 265-pounder with 4.8 speed in the 40, Ernst impressed the Auburn coaches as well. His performance was enough to earn him an offer from the coaching staff when he returned home to Louisiana. Ernst says he was enthused by the response he got when arriving in Auburn for the camp.
"The coaching staff was real nice," he says. "I know it was just a football camp. It was nice because Coach (Phillip) Lolley had just had heart surgery. I told him I was coming and when he knew that he told one of the coaches to make sure he said hey to me. He pulled me off to the side and I met Coach (Tommy) Tuberville, Coach (Gene) Chizik the defensive coordinator, Coach (Terry) Price, Coach (Don) Dunn. I met most of the coaches that were there. That's what I really took away from that. Just that they took the time out to meet with me and everything."
With visits set for Clemson on Jan. 10 and Auburn on Jan. 17, Ernst says he will also take a look at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech before making his decision. "I have a couple of schools that want me to come on the 24th. Southern Miss really wants me to come the 24th so I may schedule them on that weekend and then Louisiana Tech, or whoever else wants me to come, on that next weekend. I'm just not sure about those last two weekends yet."
Saying that he doesn't have any favorites at the moment, Ernst says he preferred to concentrate on finishing his senior season strongly before turning his attention to the recruiting process.
"I wish I did," Ernst says of having a favorite. "I'm pretty wide open. The season just ended. All the schools that have been calling us. I just kind of wanted to leave it open. I didn't want to be rude or anything, I was just waiting until after the season. The main thing I'm worried about, not really worried about, is how far I want to go away--if I want to stay close or go far away. That's the thing I'm waiting on to decide my top five. Even if I say I'm going to stay close to home I still might include others like Auburn or Oklahoma State in that top five after I take my visits."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Ernst was a two-year starter for West Monroe and could have broken into the starting lineup as a sophomore, but a broken bone is his leg caused him to miss eight games during the season. He was used as the fifth defensive lineman that season and has started at both end and tackle as a junior and senior.