Idaho junior linebacker David Ungerer is not like most slot receivers, in almost every way imaginable.
The redshirt junior carries the same general frame, measuring 5’9” and 170 lbs. but his game and story are markedly unique.
The son of a career football coach, Ungerer said he moved through nine different states as kid while growing to love the game.
“I grew up with football,” he said. “It’s in my blood. Living with football in all aspects of my life really helped foster that dream of playing at the division I level.”
Ungerer said his family finally settled down for a little while in Pullman, where Ungerer lit up the local competition. He finished his senior year with 24 total touchdowns and recognition on the 2-A All State 2nd team.
That life surrounded by football got off to a great start just across the border at Idaho. Ungerer, unlike most freshmen, played in 10 games right out of the gates. And, instead of strictly being relegated to special teams, Ungerer competed enough to get reps as a receiver. Ungerer said it truly seemed as if his game had translated from high school to division I, and that a very productive college career was off to a good start.
And that’s when the plot took an unfortunate turn for the worse.
Three plays into the 2015 season, Ungerer broke bones in both his feet.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs here and Idaho, but that was as tough as it gets,” Ungerer said.
Ungerer said the injury ended his season and forced him to take a medical redshirt. He said the recovery process was painfully slow for a guy whose life has always revolved around football.
“Every time I’ve been healthy, I’ve been able to make impacts,” he said. “However, every single experience, including getting injured, has taught me so much and helped me grow.”
His coaches kept a close watch on his recovery at every step, impressed with how he was able to come back.
“It’s one of the most difficult things ever to try and come back from an injury like that,” said head coach Paul Petrino, “But the way that he was able to come back like that proved how big of a competitor he is.”
That is one of the few areas where Ungerer fits the mold. Competitive, scrappy, and effective are words often associated with smaller slot receivers, and Ungerer has each of those qualities in spades.
Ungerer said he returned to the field last year, but his comeback was truly completed this year. He returned punts against Sacramento State and caught a pair of passes against UNLV before breaking through in a loss at Western Michigan. Ungerer said he caught the first touchdown of his career on his 22nd birthday with his mother and aunt in the stands.
“It was such an awesome experience, being able to break through with my family there. Hopefully I’ve got a few more in store,” Ungerer said.
The junior certainly has plenty of time to build on his strong start to the season and help the Vandals in their pursuit of another bowl appearance.
“He just brings such great energy to this team,” Petrino said. “Truly a great competitor, with great lateral quickness and a love of the game that shows in how hard he works.”
The Vandals are going to need as much grit and tenacity as they can get as the season progresses, and the guys like Ungerer can be just as critical as anyone else.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker