LENA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — The Lena-Winslow Panthers have proven to be one of, if not the best team in class 1A football in the last 15 years. In the last two years, Gage Dunker has shown us why he’s one of the top players in the history of the NUIC. That’s where we shine our final spotlight this week on “Overtime.”
“He’s [Gage] just all in whatever he’s going to do,” said Le-Win head football coach Ric Arand.
When you talk about NUIC football in the last two years, you of course can’t go without mentioning the name Gage Dunker.
“I mean that’s pretty sweet because you grow up and you think of the Sean Ormiston’s, Isaiah Bruce, my brother, you think of like, man, you kind of want to be like that,” said Dunker.
Those were some big shoes to fill, but luckily he had his big bro there to show him the ropes. Gennings is currently the starting right tackle for the Iowa Hawkeyes and last week he was on a bye, so he decided to make a trip back to the old stomping grounds and watch his little bro tear it up.
“He’s a huge role model. I mean, I don’t know if I’d really tell him this in person, but he’s really who I look up to.”
Gage’s passion for football grew from watching Gennings all those years repping the black and gold.
“My love of football really started my sophomore year when I was able to play in those big games. I was like, man, this is a sweet. And then seeing my brother play at the level that he does, and I was like, man, maybe I can do this, maybe not, but I might as well give it a shot.”
Fast forward to now in his senior year and every time we see Gage, he’s either popping off a huge run or scoring another touchdown. All that has added up to over 2,000 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns this season.
But things could have looked a lot different.
“My sophomore year, I really thought I was going to be an offensive lineman.”
But Coach A thought differently.
“And I said, no, I think we want you as a fullback right now, but I appreciate that, but if we change our mind, you know, ‘okay, I’ll play guard for you,’ said Arand laughing.
“I actually gave him a hard time just the other day…I said, if you can get a fifth year, I’ll let you play guard next year. And he goes, ‘I’ll do it this year if you want me to,’ but that’s how he is.”
Gage is known for what he can do on the ground running the ball, so I asked him if he thought his “speed” was what made him such a lethal back.
“I’m definitely not the fastest guy, I’ll own up to that,” said Dunker laughing. “I’m definitely not the fastest guy.”
But Lena-Winslow football still runs on Dunker.
“If you do anything besides give it to Gage, you’re crazy,” Arand said regarding a coaching call in Le-Win’s game against Du-Pec earlier in the season.
“You know, I wouldn’t have given it to anybody else, and everybody knows it’s coming, but nobody has threatened to stop it yet.”
Now, as the Lena-Winslow Panthers stare down a third-straight state championship berth, Gage has a chance to make some history of his own.
“That’s pretty sweet,” said Dunker smiling.
As of Friday night, he was one touchdown shy of tying former Le-Win running back Sean Ormiston for the most rushing touchdowns in NUIC history at 67. (Note: he rushed for three touchdowns against Forreston on Saturday and broke the record).
“It’s just proof that hard work pays off, dedication pays off,” said Arand. “And those two [Dunker and Ormiston] really are a similar mold to one another. They’re not very far off.”
And now, that work ethic is being passed down to the next and final Dunker to move through the Le-Win ranks.
“Yeah, well, he’s not really my little brother because he’s probably bigger than me,” said Dunker laughing.
And just like the last two Dunker’s, you can bet the next is cut from the same cloth.
“He’s exactly the same as Gage, just a little bigger version,” said Arand.
Gannon Dunker is a freshman and starting at left guard for the Panthers, and now he gets to learn from his big bro, just like Gage once did.
“The world’s kind of gone full circle,” said Dunker.
“I feel like I kind of tried to figure out what the tradition was here and maybe now hopefully I’m leading that tradition and in the right way.”