It should probably come as no surprise that Tyrone’s Ross Gampe signed a letter of intent to play sports at a premier university. His physical stature alone – 6-foot-4, 235 pounds – has athlete written all over it, and what he’s done for the three Golden Eagle sports teams he has played on over the past four years has been exceptional.
But go back just a couple of years and the consensus may have been that Gampe would be spending his college years playing on the diamond rather than the gridiron.
However, one impactful conversation with Coach John Franco in 2019 began to change the trajectory of Gampe’s career aspirations, and ultimately helped lead him to the special occasion he was accorded Wednesday, when he put ink to paper to commit to playing football at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one of the top Division II schools in America.
By the time Gampe had completed his first season of junior high football in seventh grade, a level of frustration set in, he said. He had been playing on the offensive line, but as his three varsity seasons showed, Gampe had many talents that extended beyond using his sizeable frame to push around opponents, and even in middle school he knew that.
So in eighth grade, Gampe said goodbye to the sport of football and did not come out for the team.
“Playing on the line, I felt like I could make an impact at a receiver position,” he said. “So I was just focusing on baseball and basketball. And then, when Franco came back he talked to me and talked me into it, and it was probably the best decision I ever made.”
Franco said that on his return to coaching in the borough in 2019, he was tipped off to the potential Gampe had as a football player by one of his former stars, Marcus Owens, who teaches physical education at Tyrone. What Franco was told was that Gampe may be the best football player in his class, so he did some investigating, attending a junior high baseball game to see the kid in action.
The two talked, and Gampe told Franco he thought he would be best suited as a wide receiver, and Franco agreed, saying he saw him as a tight end or wide receiver on offense and a defensive end on the other side of the ball.
“I said, ‘I guarantee you that you will play those positions next year on the junior high team,'” Franco said. “He said, ‘All I want is a shot at those positions to show you what I can do.'”
Franco talked to junior high coach Steve Johnson, who was completely behind the idea, and when Franco saw Gampe at a junior high practice that fall he said there was no doubt he was the best skill player on the team.
That was the hook that brought Gampe back to football, and it changed the focus of Gampe’s athletic endeavors just as it changed the course of the football program. Franco said Gampe was the leader of a senior class that as sophomores bought into what he was selling in just his second season back coaching at Tyrone.
With Gampe leading the way, that class in three seasons played in one District 6 championship game and never missed the postseason. Perhaps more importantly, the group put the shine that had been missing since around 2015 back on the Golden Eagle program.
“I’ll never forget my sophomore year and that culture Franco was trying to instill,” he said. “I could tell how real it was and how important it really was.”
Gampe wrapped up his career with a senior season on par with some of the top receivers in school history. His 36 receptions for 547 yards with 8 touchdowns led the team in all categories and placed him just on the cusp of reaching 1,000 yards for his career. In three seasons he caught 71 passes for 961 yards, which puts him at No. 8 on the all-time list.
In December, he was named a 3A first team All-State as a tight end by the Pennsylvania Football Writers and followed that up in January with a spot on the Pennsylvania Football News first team.
Gampe said he chose IUP from among a litany of suitors from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference because of the heights the Hawks climb regularly on a national basis.
“A big part of the decision was I knew I could go up there and compete not just for PSAC championships but also national championships, hopefully every single year,” Gampe said.
Gampe said he chose IUP over schools like Shippensburg, Clarion, and Lock Haven. According to Franco, the Naval Academy came in late with interest, and that could have been a perfect fit for Gampe, whom Franco praised for his work ethic in sports and the classroom, where he is a straight-A student. But the Hawks’ tradition of winning was enticing for Gampe.
IUP won the PSAC championship last season, giving the Crimson Hawks 22 such titles and advancing them into the national playoffs for the 20th time. IUP has been to the national semifinals eight times and played in the national championship twice.
For Franco, who played at IUP himself and watched his two sons star there years later, Gampe’s selection of schools is a perfect fit.
“He is very coachable. He is incredibly intelligent when it comes to football. And he will outwork anybody on the team,” Franco said. “The other thing is, he has got so much room to put so much more weight on. Now he can just sit back and concentrate on one sport. Coach Paul Tortorella said he can easily see him adding another 30-35 pounds in the next couple of years with their weight program.”
Gampe becomes the third player from District 6 in the past two seasons to make the commitment to play at IUP. Last year, Central’s Parker Gregg and Bellwood-Antis’ Cooper Guyer each played for the Hawks and became significant contributors in their freshman seasons.
For his part, Gampe will close out his Tyrone sports career having fun in sports that he loves. He is currently averaging double-digit scoring for the 11-6 Golden Eagle basketball team, and this spring he will play his final season of high school baseball, where he is a career .336 hitter.
“I will always have a special place in my heart for baseball, but I’m pretty much focusing on football now,” he said.