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Behnke inducted into college's hall of fame

October 12, 2023

By David Nordby

The Brillion News

The complete version of this story appears in the Oct. 12, 2023 print edition of The Brillion News.

MILWAUKEE – On the field, Tanner Behnke helped Wisconsin Lutheran College clinch its first conference championship in program history while playing middle linebacker. Off the field, he built lifelong relationships with those he played with.

It all made his induction into the Wisconsin Lutheran College Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 29 so special.

“When I reflect on it as receiving the award, it wasn’t just my accomplishment. It takes a village kind of thing. To have coaches like I had in high school that directed me into playing college football and then to have a family that was supportive enough to let me pursue that and encourage me throughout the way, I was very fortunate to have the support I had,” Behnke said. “I feel like that played a big part of me being as successful as I was in college.”

Behnke coached Brillion to a homecoming win against Chilton that night, so his parents, Kelly

and Laurie, with other family members, attended the ceremony on his behalf. He also sent a video speech to accept his place in school history.

“I was excited that I could have some family still go down and represent me,” he said. “With college, it was definitely a group effort as far as their support and me going to play football in college and even going to college, and for them to be able to celebrate it, it was worth it for me.”

Getting to WLC

Behnke was an accomplished player for Brillion and playing in college started to look like a real possibility about halfway through his high school days.

“Probably in my junior year is when I knew I had interest in it, and I didn’t really pursue looking at colleges. I was a little behind the 8-ball in that regard,” Behnke said.

It wasn’t until his senior season was over that he started looking at colleges.

He first visited UW-Stevens Point and UW-Oshkosh. That’s when Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) in Milwaukee called him.

“It’s kind of funny. At first when they left the voicemail, I didn’t really know much about WLC. I actually hadn’t really heard of it either, so I was intrigued by it,” Behnke said.

It worked out that WLC was also the place for him to start his teaching career.

“At that point in my life, I knew I was going to go to be a teacher. It turns out they have a really good education program down there,” Behnke said.

Making an impact

So, what did Behnke do to earn his spot in the school’s most distinguished list of athletes? A lot.

“When I went down there, the feeling that I had about the college was, they were starting to hit their prime as far as a college football program goes and that I’d be lucky enough to play on some really successful teams, and it turns out that’s what happened,” Behnke said.

On Nov. 15, 2014, against Concordia, Behnke intercepted a pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown to seal a 21-14 win for a share of the Warriors’ (7-3, 5-1) first league title.

“The whole season, it’s just very memorable because we lost early on and then we really hit our stride midseason and we were playing really good football. The team had good camaraderie and I was just fortunate in that last game to be the person in the right place at the right time in a pivotal moment of the game, but the program at that time, we had a lot of good players coming through and just really good coaches at the time, and to be a part of that first conference championship at the time is really memorable,” Behnke said.

As a senior in 2015, he led the conference with 105 total tackles and 61 solo tackles. He was named 2015 Second Team All-Region, NACC Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-NACC. He was named Second Team All-NACC prior to his senior year and was twice named NACC Student-Athlete of the Week.

Behnke never missed a game and finished his career with 40 games, 239 total tackles, 143 solo tackles, 27 tackles for loss, five sacks and four interceptions.

Nine different games he had double-digit tackles, including a career-high 19 on Oct. 10, 2015, against Benedictine, which is third all-time in the program.

“It just happened to be an offense that ran the ball a lot and as a middle linebacker, they ran it to areas where I was able to be in place for it,” Behnke said. “As a player, you’re never sure numbers wise, but there’s definitely a feel to it.”

Off the field, Behnke was a four-time NACC Scholar-Athlete and recipient of the Roger Fleming Senior Scholar-Athlete Award.

Behnke received plenty of support from the Brillion community when he was playing in Milwaukee. He had family, friends, former teammates and coaches watch him play.

“They were always checking in when I was back up and even through summer when I was doing weightlifting,” Behnke said. “(The support) was year-round from Brillion.”

Love of the game

It should be obvious by now that Behnke loves football. He was a state champion for Brillion and successfully played Division III football. The outlook for Division III programs is that even at that level, it is high level football done for the love of the sport.

“If they’re on your team, it’s because they want to be there and they want to be playing football and as a player, there’s nothing better than knowing everyone else on your team is there for the same reason, you know, for the love of the game,” Behnke said.

Behnke spent four years with players with the same mindset.



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