Ross Gengler was always going to score more touchdowns than ever before during his senior season.
Delavan-Darien’s tackling machine of a linebacker has taken on a bigger role as a running back this year, so chances were high he would find the end zone.
But not even he could have imagined just how quickly his first two scores of the season came in Week 2—and that they would come before he even carried the ball one time.
Host Milwaukee North received the opening kickoff Aug. 30 and promptly fumbled it away on what Gengler called a crushing hit by one of his teammates. Gengler scooped it up and scored.
Delavan-Darien kicked off again. And on Milwaukee North’s first play from scrimmage, the ball wound up on the ground again. And again, Gengler was there to grab it and return it for a touchdown.
“Kickoff, touchdown, kickoff again and then the first play on defense,” Gengler said. “Everyone was like, what the heck just happened?”
What happened was he had scored two touchdowns in the span of 27 seconds, setting the tone in a 50-0 road win.
“He had two picks, two fumble recoveries, two touchdowns, two tackles for loss,” Delavan-Darien coach Hank Johnson said. “It was like two, two, two all the way across, and he only played a quarter.
“He puts himself in the position to make those big plays, because he knows where he is going.”
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Gengler is certainly an imposing figure as the “quarterback” of the Comets defense.
He got a taste of varsity football his freshman season and has, quite simply, taken big steps forward each year since.
According to statistics compiled on WisSports.net, Gengler finished with 90 tackles, including 64 solo, with 1.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception as a sophomore.
Last season, he had 108 tackles (58 solo), 4.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and three picks. He went from an honorable mention all-Southern Lakes Conference selection to being named to the first team.
And he’s already posted a 20-tackle game this year and had four sacks in the Comets’ first two games. In Friday’s 22-21 loss at Elkhorn, Gengler rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns and had seven tackles (five solo).
Gengler credits his knack for piling up tackles, at least in part, to his experience in playing rugby since eighth grade.
“Rugby really helped me out, as well as my brother, who helped teach me how to read offenses,” he said. “My dad played rugby at Whitewater, so I got into it. That’s just helped me get a nose for the ball.”
Johnson, in his second year as head coach, said Gengler has gone from a player with a see-ball-get-ball mentality to one who can often recognize what an opposing offense is going to do before the ball is snapped.
“Before, it was just his athletic ability, but now he’s starting to realize the assignments and concepts going on around him,” Johnson said. “And he knows a lot of the other positions, so he knows where they’re supposed to be.
“He’s always running around the field. He can go sideline to sideline. And he does a heck of a job knifing his way through the line.”
That big-play ability, combined with a strong work ethic and ever-growing knowledge about football has the Delavan-Darien senior on track to join the University of Wisconsin football team next spring.
The Badgers offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on, and Gengler announced his commitment to UW on his Twitter account July 24.
“I’ve always wanted to play (college football) since fifth grade,” Gengler said. “I went there (to Wisconsin) for a junior year visit, junior day, and it was just awesome. I knew that was the place right away. It just felt like home.
“When I got the text about going to Wisconsin junior day, I was spazzing out. It was awesome.”
Gengler said he continues to spend time in the weight room, and Johnson said his star player still has the kind of untapped potential that the Badgers so often get out of their walk-on players.
Perhaps Gengler will be the next of those success stories. Either way, he hopes his journey inspires others at Delavan-Darien—where a distinct enrollment disadvantage in the Southern Lakes can often make life difficult.
“The kids know he has this opportunity in front of him,” Johnson said. “And the great thing is, he’s there to help them. When the second team was in there, he was talking and coaching up the linebackers. When he talks, his teammates listen.”
“I want to make all-state and make it to the playoffs,” Gengler said. “We’ve been getting better and better and have been in the weight room. I want to say that’s possible with this group.”