INDIANAPOLIS – Every time Alec Ingold walked past the Bay Port High School gymnasium, the future Wisconsin fullback looked at the three Dan Buenning jerseys adorning the wall.
One for Bay Port. One for the University of Wisconsin, Buenning’s college alma mater. One for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted Buenning in the fourth round in 2005.
Ingold, only 8 years old at the time, was at the Buennings’ home the night Dan was drafted. The two families have been close for years, as Ingold’s father, Pat, coached Buenning in wrestling at Bay Port.
Ingold idolized Buenning, the first Bay Port alumnus to be drafted into that NFL. He had a “hundred” Buenning autographs and a pair of his cleats.
Even after Ingold developed into an all-state quarterback for the Pirates, those three Buenning jerseys continued to be Ingold’s motivation to follow in his friend’s NFL footsteps.
“Every time I passed that, that was a goal of mine was to have my three jerseys up there just like his,” Ingold said. “He had a big influence on me. His dad even came over to my house when I committed to Wisconsin.”
Nearly 14 years after Buenning was drafted, Ingold is the only true fullback who received an invite to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine after a decorated career with the Badgers.
Come April, Ingold and fellow combine invitee Max Scharping, a Northern Illinois tackle and Green Bay Southwest alum, hope to join an exclusive club of former area athletes like Buenning to hear their names called during the NFL Draft.
Ingold had a winding journey to success. Lightly recruited at first, Ingold verbally committed to play quarterback at Northern Illinois before Paul Chryst returned to Wisconsin and offered him a scholarship as an athlete.
Ingold trusted Chryst and credits his coach for not selling him a bill of goods. He told Ingold from the beginning he was going to move around and that’s what happened.
Ingold briefly played linebacker at the start of his true freshman year –and even earned scout player of the week after the Alabama game in 2015 – before Chryst approached him about potentially moving to fullback.
“He said, ‘Do you want to play running back for Wisconsin?’ I said, ‘Heck yeah, I want to play running back for Wisconsin,’” Ingold recalled. “Being able to do that was awesome and then that next day having that conversation with him saying – the words were, ‘I think you can make a job out of this. You can make it.’”
After making the switch to fullback, Ingold’s dad playfully warned his son he may never score another touchdown again. While Ingold only touched the ball 117 times in his four years at Madison, nearly one-fifth of those plays produced touchdowns.
The Packers reiterated their commitment to the position earlier this week and there’s reason to believe them. One of Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s closest confidants, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, is one of the league’s biggest advocates for the fullback position.
Last season, Shanahan deployed three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Juszczyk on 662 offensive snaps, 62.7 percent of the 49ers’ total. Only one other fullback, New England’s James Devlin, played more than 250 offensive snaps all season, according to FootballOutsiders.com.
Still, the Patriots’ successful utilization of Devlin in Super Bowl LIII gives Ingold hope there will be a fullback renaissance in the not-so-distant future.
“The game is changing (but) it’s cyclical,” Ingold said. “As soon as the Patriots win the Super Bowl, everybody is going to want a fullback pretty soon. We’ll be back in action pretty soon. It’s a full-circle thing.”
From Ingold’s perspective, it’s incumbent on fullbacks to diversify their skill set like Juszczyk and Devlin. Being a solid contributor on special teams certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
It all starts with a strong weekend in Indianapolis, and Ingold has plenty of support with the Badgers sending seven players to this week’s combine, including three offensive linemen.
Having had a brief chat with Packers scouts, Ingold acknowledges it would be “a dream job” to play in Green Bay. At the same time, he’s open to any team willing to give him a chance to prove his worth.
He did it in high school and at Wisconsin. Now, Ingold simply is asking for a chance to play at the next level – and hoist his three jerseys next to Buenning’s at Bay Port.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Ingold said. “Being able to be here, you watch it on TV growing up, you’ve got to try and find those moments where you can take a deep breath and enjoy it.
“It’s still work. We’re still here working. It’s a job interview. I want that dream job, so I’m not stopping yet.”