Scott Reppert, a hometown boy, stood high atop Union Hill at the southeastern corner of Lawrence University, a highly competitive, well-respected liberal arts college in Appleton, Wis. "This is my favorite place on earth," he said, regarding the glorious autumn foliage of the campus oaks, maples and walnuts. "There's nothing better than fall in Wisconsin." Below him, the Fox River twisted past Youngchild Science Building, the fraternities and Russell Sage Hall—"where all the seniors and relevant people live," he said—on its way from Neenah and Menasha up to Kimberly, Kaukauna and Green Bay.
"That spot there is where we throw all the guys into the river right after they get engaged," said Reppert, Lawrence's two-time Little All-America running back, who led the NCAA's Division III in rushing the past two seasons and tied for the lead in scoring last year. Reppert is also an Academic All-America (3.0 GPA in psychology) and probably Lawrence's alltime best unofficial tour guide. He's one of the few people on the football team who was born and raised in Appleton. He has never lived anywhere else except for three months last winter when he studied in London.
Reppert pointed to the tall smokestack of the Fox Valley Paper Corp. and to the Allis-Chalmers plant on the opposite bank. "That's what Appleton's all about," he said. "The guys who work over there say we're on the wrong side of the river, and the administrators and professors say the gym and the stadium, which are over there, are on the wrong side of campus."
Reppert, though, is always on the right side of things. He is again leading Division III in rushing (210 carries for 1,126 yards, a 160.9 yards-per-game average), and is among the leaders in scoring (90 points) and kickoff returns (a 28.5-yard average). Last season, as a junior, he ran for 156.7 yards per game and scored 96 points. The year before, he had a 153-yard average. Never mind that he is 5'8", 185. Reppert is quick and strong—he runs the 40 in 4.4 and bench-presses 360 pounds—and he has a keen sense of balance thanks to four years of varsity gymnastics at Appleton West High.
In a 54-0 win over the University of Chicago at Lawrence's homecoming on Saturday, Reppert carried the ball 40 times for 219 yards and scored twice to raise his career touchdown total to a school-record 45. He became the first Lawrence back to gain more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and now has 4,255 for his career.
But as busy as he has been running the football, Reppert has also found time to be active in civic affairs in Appleton. For the last five years he has worked almost daily in the orthopedic and special education departments at Highlands Elementary School, his old stomping ground. "The kids respond better to Scott than to anyone else," says Betsy Melzer, his supervisor at Highlands. "When he has them work with weights, they lift twice as much, because he's a football player."
"I remember one little girl," Reppert says. "Every day she'd come in, her eyes were spinning; she was drooling; food was on her mouth. And she always wanted a kiss. She just wanted to feel loved.
"Or Jim. One of his problems was echolalia. When I started with him five years ago, I'd say, 'Hi, I'm Scott.' And he'd say, 'Scott. Scott. Scott.' I'd try to break the echo by saying, 'I play football.' And he'd say, 'Yeah, football. Football. Football.' He got gradually worse. After the first year, he couldn't remember my name. The second year, he couldn't swim anymore. Today, he can't speak. He's just a little ball that quivers. He doesn't even know he's alive.
"The more success I have, the more I need Highlands. It helps me keep everything in perspective. So many of those kids have had operation after operation. And you know something? They bounce right back. And me? I complain if I don't do well in a football game."
Reppert has stayed close to his family, too. Though he's a member of Phi Delta Theta, he has lived at home—15 minutes from campus—since enrolling at Lawrence. He does it partly because he'd miss his mother's cooking too much. "She makes the best apple pie," he says. The football team will tell you she also makes a mean Sunday brunch: dozens of egg soufflés, heaps of Canadian bacon, mounds of hash browns.
But Reppert has lived at home mostly so he can spend time with his 17-year-old brother, Mark, who was born deaf. "Mark needs a role model," Reppert says. "He's dealing with discrimination every day—in school, in class, at lunch, on the football field, on the cross-country team. He's at a disadvantage before he even starts anything. There must be times when he says to himself, 'Why am I working so hard? Why don't I just slide through life like everybody else?' Then he sees me and says, 'Scott's in college. Scott's on the football team. I know I have the same ability.'
"I've never pretended I was deaf, but I've always wondered what it's like. It must be awful to be at the dinner table and everybody's laughing because somebody has told a joke. And you don't know if they're laughing at you, or if the joke is something you would have laughed at if you could've heard it."
Reppert wouldn't feel at home at just any college. But then again Lawrence (enrollment, 1,150) isn't just any college. It's the Stanford of Division III—all brawn and all brains. Ron Roberts became the winningest football coach in the school's history last Saturday. Now in his 18th season, Roberts has a 112-44-1 record (6-1 this year). The Vikings run a complicated pro set, two tight end offense. "We've already shown our opponents 18 different formations and will show them 17 more by the end of the year," Reppert says. "Put all us little guys who were underachievers in high school with guys our own size and we're over-achievers."
Lawrence is successful but not in the usual big-time football way. Chris Matheus, a senior defensive end who has a 3.88 GPA in physics, has computerized the team's defensive plays. Last season Noseguard Sam Levin missed the Vikings' first playoff game because of a bar mitzvah. "I asked him if he'd convert to Christianity for a week," Roberts says, "but he didn't think it would be a good idea." On another occasion, Levin and Defensive Back Dave Blowers took their law school entrance exams in their uniforms and ran onto the field right before the opening kickoff. "So much for psyching up for games," Roberts says.
"My career at Lawrence has been special," says Reppert, who hopes to play pro ball and get an M.B.A. "The guys on the team really care. Playing football was a social thing in high school. Guys played because their dads forced them to or because their buddies told them that's what they had to do to be a man. Here the guys are playing because they want to and because they feel it's a vital part of their liberal arts education. It's competitive and serious football, yet we haven't lost sight of what's important. And, we control our own destinies."