VCC players get familiar with Ely, each other, in training camp

by Tom Coombe
They come from differing backgrounds, divergent academic interests and various states.
They share some goals but their experiences vary.
Some are seeing Ely for the first time while others have been here before.
Yet over the course of a month, they’re coming together with a common purpose: to return Vermilion Community College football to its former glory.
Since early-August, roughly 50 players have practiced together and competed against each other as the Ironmen return to the gridiron this fall for the first time in two seasons with a new coaching staff and an almost entirely new roster.
Terrence Isaac, a star receiver for the Vermilion on a pair of state championship team in the mid-1990s, has returned to Ely as the Ironmen’s new head coach.
He has already made a difference, according to a player who was on campus a year ago.
“We work very well together,” said Colton Patterson, a lineman from Andover, a Twin Cities suburb. “We already have a good sync together. The coaching staff is very committed to Vermilion and I appreciate that. I think we’ll go pretty far.”
Isaac and his staff have built a team with players from both Minnesota and far beyond, with Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Florida, Louisiana and Virginia among the states listed on the roster.
It’s a group that has some lofty aspirations and hardened focus.
“I feel like we can accomplish a lot,” said quarterback Dontrail Session of Jacksonville, Tex. “The coaches have a good system in order and we’re trying to get one percent better each day to reach our goals.”
Slow improvement is one of the missions, but the Ironmen also have their eyes on a big prize.
“What every one wants is a championship,” said safety Rustan Lucas, a Montana native.
In pursuit of that goal are players who all found Vermilion and Ely, in unique fashion.
Andrew Eriks, a linebacker from Indiana, found Vermilion via a connection between a high school coach and the previous coaching staff led by Justin Kosik who resigned last year and took a football position in Kansas.
“I was going to come up last season, but with COVID shutting down the season, I took the year off,” said Eriks.
Eriks conceded it’s his first time “being this far north, but I was blown away going down main street. It’s a beautiful town.”
Quarterback Keith Baker of Shreveport, La., played football in high school for Isaac, and he’s sold on Ely.
“At first I was very skeptical about coming,” said Baker. “But so far I really like it. The town, the people, the school and the coaching staff.”
Lineman Jace Thompson of Warroad is more familiar with Ely and cold Minnesota winters. His lure to Vermilion mirrors that of many of the school’s traditional students.
“I knew they had a good wildlife and law enforcement program,” said Thompson. “And I’ve always been around the outdoors.”
Lucas was also attracted by VCC’s degree programs.
“I’m very passionate about the outdoors and I chose fisheries and wildlife science,” he said.
Many of the Ironmen’s players are hoping to use Vermilion as a springboard to major college football.
De’Vonta’ Roberts, a defensive back from Florida, is hoping to lead the league in interceptions and improve his grades enough so he can capitalize on some of the NCAA Division I interest he received as a high school player.
Session has similar goals, as does Maximus Mcarthur, a self-described “downhill running back” from Arkansas.
“Coach Isaac recruited me and told me to come up here and play football and work on my grades so I can get a scholarship,” said Mcarthur.
While some of the Ironmen played high school football last year, those in the collegiate ranks had a season off because of the pandemic.
That has created some issues early on, according to linebacker Carlos Carter, who was on campus a year ago but sidelined along with the rest of the Ironmen.
“It’s been a pretty big adjustment,” said Carter. “Taking a year off was really big. Not having played football since 2019, it felt good knocking all the rust off and getting back into football shape.”
Vermilion, which opens at perennial powerhouse Rochester Aug. 28, figures to have a talented group.
Baker passed for about 10,000 yards in high school and he’s been blown away by the depth of the Vermilion’s fleet of receivers.
“We’ve got so many athletes, so much talent,” said Baker. “My receiving corps, I don’t know which one to choose.”