After two horrific ankle injuries, Asher still a weapon for Thunderbirds
When Mahnomen-Waubun senior linebacker and running back Izaiah Asher was in eighth grade, Mahnomen head coach John Clark could not use him late in games because he couldn't be stopped and it would appear Mahnomen was running up the score. That's when he was in eighth grade.
"He's the most natural runner that I've seen," Clark said.
It's hard to believe there's any secret to what Mahnomen-Waubun's football team does. The Thunderbirds run, run some more, allow nothing on defense and then run some more.
But Asher is a player the Thunderbirds keep in their back pocket these days. And he's more than happy to have that role, as the Thunderbirds take on Springfield in the Minnesota Class 1A semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
I like being the secret weapon," Asher said.
Asher didn't start off as a secret weapon, but two horrific ankle injuries made him one. There's was no secret when he was younger, as he ripped off giant runs as an eighth-grader. He had 37 rushes for 370 yards and three touchdowns in eighth grade and 540 yards and six touchdowns on 55 carries as a freshman. As a sophomore, he rushed for 533 yards and five touchdowns on 81 carries. He had 20.5 tackles as a defensive back as a freshman and 38 tackles and two interceptions at defensive back as a sophomore.
"When he was young he was pure speed," Clark said. "He could outrun you. When he got older, especially his junior year, he became a running back. It wasn't just about speed. His vision improved. He's not a big guy, but he was learning to finish runs. He went from pure speed burner to a running back."
It was the first match at the section wrestling meet when Asher was a sophomore that he came down hard on his left ankle.
"It hurt a lot," Asher said. "There was a bunch of torn ligaments."
Asher fought to get back in time for his junior football season. He rushed for 1,101 yards and 11 touchdowns on 148 carries in nine games, while adding 33.5 tackles and two interceptions on defense. In the section semifinals, he was tackled and fell on his right ankle wrong. It was broken and his season was over, as Mahnomen lost in the state quarterfinals.
"I knew it was broke right away," Asher said. "It was frustrating. It sucked."
Asher had to rebuild again for his senior season. With a new co-op with Waubun, he also had to accept a new role. With depth at running back, he doesn't run as much, and he was moved from defensive back to linebacker in Week 3 this season.
"I was really frustrated at first because I didn't think I was good at linebacker," Asher said. "I stuck it out. I'm just kind of doing what is best for the team."
Asher first started playing football with his cousins when he was around 10 years old. He has multiple family members who have won state football titles with Mahnomen. He's still looking for his own title. He never once thought about not playing football after his ankle injuries.
"I was always coming back," Asher said. "I wasn't sure if I'd be back to normal, but I was always coming back."
His ankles are still nowhere near 100 percent, but Asher leads the team in tackles with 33 and has rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries. Despite two ankle injuries, Asher is still averaging nearly 8 yards per carry for his career.
And at any point, he can strike.
"I think he's done a great job hiding how hurt his ankles are, and he's doing this in a linebacker position he's never played with two bad ankles," Clark said. "He's that little hidden weapon that we have. He can bust loose on any play. He only weighs about 140 pounds, but he'll take on tackles, guards, tight ends and has a knack for avoiding blocks.
"He's the ultimate teammate. He could care less about awards or glory. He's just all in for the team. That's what makes him special. If more teams had guys like him they'd have a lot more fun."