Erick Stranko and his Westminster High School football teammates got the season they so desperately wanted after missing out on an entire slate of fall games amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
And even though games took place in March and April, Stranko said he and the Owls were determined to have fun and make the most of their opportunity. The Owls senior did more than that this spring.
Stranko shined for Westminster in its six-game schedule and led the Owls to an unbeaten season and a Carroll County Athletic League championship. At running back he led the county in rushing yards and touchdowns, and at linebacker he anchored a stingy Westminster defense.
Stranko put his skills together for one final high school experience and earned Times Player of the Year honors as well. And what an experience it was — Stranko ran for 1,054 yards and scored nine touchdowns, both tops in Carroll. He compiled 59 tackles (22 for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions on defense.
Stranko finished four years of varsity football with 3,094 yards, according to stats submitted by Westminster coaches. That’s the second highest career total in Carroll County history (North Carroll graduate Steve Suter totaled 4,067 yards some two decades ago).
Stranko went for 1,295 yards and scored 10 touchdowns as a junior, but said he made sure to take advantage of his shortened spring season knowing it was his last as an Owl.
“Just playing was a blessing this year,” Stranko said. “Getting six games, it was at one point one game, no games, three games, I don’t know. But six games was something to really not take for granted. And the way it came out, 6-0, with those guys, it was a blessing.”
Westminster put together the third unbeaten regular season in school history and joined the 1963 (9-0-1) and 2012 (10-0) teams.
Stranko was a big reason why. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry and came up with big plays when Westminster needed them throughout the season. His final high school game, against city rival Winters Mill, came down to the fourth quarter with the Owls facing a 7-2 deficit. Coach Chris Bassler rode Stranko on the decisive drive, and the senior capped it with a 34-yard touchdown and the game-winning points.
In the first game of the spring, Westminster and Liberty were locked in a defensive struggle before Stranko got loose in big spots. He overcame an early fumble, totaled 248 rushing yards, and scored two touchdowns in the Owls’ 21-6 victory.
Stranko ran for 2,349 yards and scored 28 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined.
“The last two years, whenever we’ve needed something … he was the guy we’ve counted on,” Bassler said. “It’s like he tries to impose his will every game. And the guys just feed off it. He just had this need to succeed. And the people around him fed off of that and wanted to match his play.”
Stranko helped anchor a Westminster defense that gave up 35 points, an average of 5.8 points per game. To break it down a little further, the Owls averaged 1.5 points per quarter. Their 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior linebacker proved critical to the defense’s stranglehold on its opponents.
“The thing that I think sets him apart is he is the most physically tough and mentally tough player I’ve ever coached,” Bassler said. “He is strong and he’s deceptively fast. He doesn’t make a lot of guys miss, but he runs over a lot of people. He makes guys miss that way.”
Stranko said preparing for the spring season was unique. He wasn’t able to hit the gym during the offseason, mostly because of restrictions amid the pandemic. Instead, Stranko said he decided to take up a running regimen with his father.
“It was good for both of us so we went out and ran a couple of miles every day. It was fun,” said Stranko, in part trying to convince himself that he actually enjoyed the routine. “I was less tired. It was definitely paying off.”
Extra conditioning, combined with talent and skill born from his rec football days in both Gamber Mustangs and Westminster Wildcats organizations, have helped Stranko gain elite status. The last year has been a challenge for many high school seniors when it comes to the recruiting process, but Stranko has a plan in place.
He’s bound for University of Delaware and wants to major in engineering. Stranko said he hopes to join the Blue Hens football team as a walk-on so his football journey can continue.
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“Football has been a part of my life forever, so walking away from it would be really, really difficult,” Stranko said. “I’ve talked to my family, I’ve talked to my coaches. I’m going to hopefully get out there and get a couple years to play, and that would be great. But education first. If football is in that [plan], then I’m blessed.”