Akouris: Plainfield East’s Tyler Lancaster, Brennen Rompa making own history
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org February 10, 2013 4:46PM
Plainfield East High School football players Tyler Lancaster (left), who signed with Northwestern University, and Brennen Rompa (right), who signed with Upper Iowa University, are seen at Plainfield East High School Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Plainfield. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 12, 2013 6:08AM
Maybe you can’t put Plainfield East on the same pedestal with programs such as Morris, Minooka, Joliet Catholic and Providence — programs that have been around for decades and have produced a bevy of football players who went on to stellar college and pro careers.
But Tyler Lancaster and Brennen Rompa are at least two guys who are giving the Bengals program a head start.
The pair signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, Lancaster with Northwestern and Rompa with Division II Upper Iowa.
“It’s a tribute to them and their hard work,” Bengals coach Mike Romeli said. “They continued to push each other, and their attitude is being brought to the next classes. We took huge strides in every aspect of the football field. We have guys who will play at various levels throughout the years.”
Plainfield East opened in 2008 and Rompa’s and Lancaster’s class is just the second to go through all four years at the school. The pair also are Romeli’s first players to earn Division I and II football scholarships.
Lancaster’s signing with Northwestern comes at a fortuitous time. The NU athletic department on Tuesday announced a five-year deal with Wrigley Field in which several NU sports teams will play their games on the iconic field. The football team will play a game at Wrigley in 2014 with the opponent to be determined.
The Wildcats also are coming off a historic victory in the Gator Bowl, with NU snapping a nine-game bowl losing streak.
“I’m extremely excited. Their program is on the rise,” said Lancaster, who plans to major in engineering. “I feel like it’s going to be quite the experience and they are getting so much better. I think they are going to be Big Ten championship contenders soon. I’m honored to be a part of Northwestern’s program.”
Lancaster may be the biggest recruit to date to come out of Plainfield East, but the past four years haven’t been a breeze for him.
“Everyone thinks they are too small, and I had the same problem,” Lancaster said. “They look at these bigger programs with these bigger kids and they feel inferior to them. But in reality you work your way up.
“That’s what (Rompa and) I did. We overcame our own ceiling. We’re not just freaks of nature. We worked our way up.”
Typical offensive and defensive linemen are close to 300 pounds. Lancaster is 6-foot-4, 275. He, too, felt insecure.
NU coach Pat Fitzgerald told Lancaster he will start on the offensive line — probably redshirting his freshman year — but if a spot opens up on the defensive line, Fitzgerald and his staff will consider Lancaster for that position instead.
A hard road
Rompa, a 5-10, 215-pound linebacker, came to East from Nazareth, where he spent his freshman year and part of his sophomore year. The adjustment was difficult and, at times, Rompa faced a lot of adversity fitting in to a new system and a new school.
So the signing with Upper Iowa had special meaning. It was a bittersweet morning Wednesday, not only because Rompa remembered how far he has come but because his dog passed away from cancer the night before.
“I came here and I saw this as a stepping stone in my life,” Rompa said. “I felt like I fit in well with them. I’m not a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker, but I will play with the D-I caliber that people have said that I’m not.”
Coach Tom Shea already sees Rompa as his starting inside linebacker. There’s no doubt Rompa will start as a true freshman.
“I couldn’t say no to Upper Iowa,” said Rompa, who would like to major in either nursing or business. “It felt like family. You have that feeling when you go to a college and that’s what I had there.”
Upper Iowa won out over Army, Indiana State, South Dakota State and Truman State.
“Excited is an understatement,” Rompa said. “This is a dream that has come true for me and everyone has told me I’m too short and I’m not going to make it. I fought that model and I’m here where I am now.”
Romeli, in his third year as Bengals coach, is having fun watching his players get recruited by big-time programs. On the horizon, Romeli will look forward to watching sophomores Cole Kotopka (quarterback), Daniel Jackson (lineman), Jake Mayon (running back/linebacker) and Brandon Rivera (wide receiver/defensive back) play the recruiting game. Romeli said there already have been some recruiters in to talk to those players.
And there’s one more Rompa, too. Brennen’s younger brother, Cullen, is a junior running back/linebacker.
Brennen Rompa has advice for his brother and the up-and-comers.
“(Cullen) has seen what I’ve been through in this whole process,” Rompa said. “You have to have your mind open because there are so many coaches ... and it’s a roller coaster through the whole event.”