PETOSKEY – Playing at a high level on the football field was nothing new for Petoskey’s Dylan Aldridge this season.
He rebounded between college and junior college as a freshman, cutting his teeth with the older and bigger players. He progressed steadily in his sophomore year and then really started to take off in the last couple of years when the opportunity presented itself.
But, what he brings to the field has always been there.
“He’s always had very good vision and his playing speed is at a very high level, but also his thinking speed,” said Petoskey head coach Zach Jonker. “Football is ultimately a game of trying to find space and the more space you have the more time you have with the ball and then your decision comes from there. He’s just doing it at a very high level. It’s pretty innate and started pretty much its first year.
While he was always one of the smartest and savviest players in the roster, he just needed to grow physically and let those traits catch up.
“I would say playing has helped me a lot, helped me grow as a player,” Aldridge said of his early advancement. “It was more physical when I was in first year and I had to play up to that level. Play faster and faster. Then when Hunter (Hicks) left it gave me a lot of room. It was kind of my turn. “
After leading the Northmen in assists and finishing third in the Big North Conference as a junior scorer, Aldridge shone in his starring role last season, becoming an All-State First-Team player and finishing close again. from the top of the league’s markers.
Now, Aldridge can also add Petoskey News-Review Player of the Year to his accolades.
Following in the footsteps of the program’s all-time top scorer at Hicks, Aldridge was able to evolve into a different role in 2021, all while playing with a group of players he’s been with since his days with the Petoskey Youth Soccer Association.
“He collected a ton of assists last year and helped set up Hunter in a variety of ways,” Jonker said. “Partly too, we played Dylan higher up as a center forward and developing some of our young guys in the midfield allowed us to do that. He was just a handful up there. He started in more dangerous areas.
This dangerous game showed itself from the start. In the first week of the season, when the Northmen met a number of Division 1 and 2 programs in a staged tournament and hit the road for the others, Aldridge scored 12 goals and added two assists in eight. matches, the Northmen going 6-1-1 in that stretch.
His game remained at a high level throughout the season starting this opening week, even as teams learned what to focus on.
“He really got it all,” Jonker said of what makes Aldridge difficult. “He can break people up one on one, he’s got a lot of range on his shots and he’s great in the air, he’s scored a lot of goals on his header. He scored one of the best goals I’ve seen in a high school football game in the area against Forest Hills Northern on a free kick from 25 yards. He just has a bit of everything in his game which makes him difficult to defend.
For Aldridge, this season came with a great sense of relief and the ability to just go out and play after a year without knowing if there would be a season, if a game would be called off, or if the season would be completely halted.
“It was just a great year,” he said. “To go from maybe we’ll have a season last year, to this one has to be our season because we know we’re going to play, so let’s do our best. It certainly motivated all of us and me because we knew we were going to show up and play a game.
The season ended with 27 goals and 11 assists for Aldridge, but it was also everyone around Aldridge who took off. With each season at the college level, Petoskey’s goals have increased from 18 in freshman in 2018, to 37 in sophomore, 64 in junior last season, and then an impressive 71 in 2021.
Behind Aldridge setting the tone, the Northmen won a district championship and then advanced to the Division 2 regional finals, falling to future state champion Grand Rapids Christian by a score of 2-0.
For Aldridge, a lot has prepared his team to get to this point, years spent together, on a difficult schedule at BNC.
“I think it was just all the seniors who had played our whole lives together,” he said. “We all had great chemistry. Then, playing (TC) West and (TC) Central, they’re still good. We have competition, so it’s not like we play against bad teams all the time.
When the final horn sounded at Red Hawk Stadium in Cedar Springs, closing Petoskey’s season, it was actually not the end of Aldridge’s playing days. The senior recently joined Hope College.
At this point, Jonker believes Aldridge will continue to add to his game.
“He’s only scratched the surface as a football player so it’s going to be exciting for him to be in an environment where he trains daily with top level players and has top level competitions.” Jonker added. “I think you’ll see him take another leap in his college career.”
Contact sports editor Drew Kochanny at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @DrewKochanny, and Instagram, @drewkochanny