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October 11, 2011

Rose inductees learned sacrifice

TERRE HAUTE — Former wide receiver Eric Gappa admits that when he completed his Rose-Hulman football career in 1995 and when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1996, he wondered if someday he would be inducted into the engineering institute’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Someday” finally arrived Oct. 8, 2011.

That’s when Gappa, former football teammate A.J. Wilkerson (mechanical engineering, 1997), former baseball standout Andy Tochterman (chemical engineering, 2001), former football/basketball standout Elwood “Woody” Stroupe (chemical engineering, 1960) and the late football/track standout William “Big Bill” Rumbley (mechanical engineering, 1943) became Rose’s latest inductees.

All were introduced at halftime of the Franklin vs. Rose-Hulman football game Saturday afternoon at Cook Stadium.

Gappa set a Rose career record with 22 touchdown receptions in ‘95. Even though 2011 graduate Reed Eason passed him last season, he’s still second on the all-time list.

“It’s an honor as an athlete to be remembered,” Gappa told the Tribune-Star on Saturday.

Gappa also ranks fourth in school history in receiving yards with 2,042 and fifth in receptions with 113. In a 1993 game against Hanover, he put up 192 receiving yards, the second most by an Engineer ever.

But perhaps his most memorable game came against Hanover in 1994 because it was played inside the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Thanks in part to Gappa’s two TD catches, the Engineers won by a surprisingly lopsided score of 48-24.

“At the time, Hanover was leading the [Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference],” he recalled. “We had one loss [in the HCAC] and they didn’t have any coming in. We played the last game of the night [as part of the “ICAC Day in the Dome”]… We had some big offensive plays. It was a lot of fun.”

There was another reason Gappa enjoyed the taste of that victory.

“My brother [Brad] was a freshman on Hanover’s team at the time,” he explained. “It was the only time we played against each other in a college football game.

“We did win that game, but unfortunately we lost to Wabash the next week and Hanover ended up winning the conference. My brother likes to show me his conference championship ring.”

Wilkerson, a speedy running back during his playing days, also keeps fond, perhaps fuzzy memories of that Dome triumph over Hanover.

“On the first play, I got knocked out with concussion symptoms,” he pointed out. “But I came back in and had a great game. I think [quarterback] Todd Harris, [running back] Anthony Hammack and myself all had over 100 yards [rushing].

“It was fun to be back in Indianapolis, where I’m from, and have my family and all my friends come to watch us play.”

Scott Duncan, now a Terre Haute investment consultant, coached the Engineers then and Wilkerson said interactions with him provided plenty of unique experiences.

“Coach Duncan was a really intense guy,” Wilkerson mentioned with a smile. “We had lots of memorable moments.”

Wilkerson — an Indianapolis resident and part owner of Validated Custom Solutions and Open Control Solutions, a company that provides HVAC products for offices in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Orlando and Tampa, Fla. — and Gappa — an upper-level math teacher at North Judson-San Pierre High School — described a few of the lessons they learned at Rose-Hulman that helped them mature as adults over the years.

“I think Rose-Hulman prepared us to handle time management, challenging us in the classroom just as we would be challenged in the work force,” Wilkerson said. “Rose-Hulman provided me with the tools that I needed to succeed post-college.”

“It taught me about sacrifice,” Gappa noted. “Sometimes it’s not what’s best for me individually; it’s what’s best for everybody as a group… You might not take a job that makes the most money, but you do something that allows you to do the other things that are important to you in your life and you realize what priorities are. You manage your priorities based on what’s most important.”

Gappa remembered that he accumulated more impressive statistics during his first two seasons than his last two seasons because the team evolved into a more run-based attack, which became known around Terre Haute as “Ground Rose.”

“My junior and senior years, there was less of an emphasis on passing,” he continued. “But the tradeoff was we were winning more often [7-3 in 1994 and 6-4 in 1995]… It was a hard adjustment at the time, but it was an adjustment that I understood. You do what gives your team the best chance to win.”

Both former athletes offered different reactions to being informed that they would be inducted into Rose’s Hall of Fame.

“Very, very surprised,” Wilkerson stressed. “I feel honored to be in the same category with a lot of very gifted and talented athletes, guys like Anthony Hammack and Jerome Williams. It’s really special.”

“When I was playing, I hoped that one day I would have a good enough career to be enshrined here and this is that day,” Gappa assessed. “I’ve been looking forward to this since I ended my playing career, hoping that my career was good enough as a whole to be considered as one of the best in Rose-Hulman history.”

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