PLUM CITY — Thomas Asher and Dalton Binkowski stand on the edge of the Plum City football field messing around with each other as old teammates do.
These boys appear quite different from each other. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Asher is big and tall. He’s plays on the offensive and defensive line for Elmwood/Plum City and it’s clear why he’s out on the football field. Binkowski, however, is remarkably unremarkable. He’s 5-foot-9, 165 pounds and if you didn’t know any better, you might think he was just another small-school Lakeland middle linebacker.
That, however, would be wrong.
By the end of this year, Binkowski will likely have his name in the WIAA record book. He currently has 419 career tackles and though the all-time Wisconsin record of 461 set by Southern Door’s Tory Jandrin and Shullsburg’s Oren Charles will likely be out of reach, he’s just 19 tackles away from moving into third all-time, passing Edgar’s Lincoln Berg.
What Binkowski lacks in size, he makes up for with grit and toughness.
“He always likes to call it ‘farm strong,’” Elmwood/Plum City coach Mike Birtzer said. “It’s very true. He along with some of our other players are not only kids that get up and go to school, go to practice, but at the same time they are in the barn doing chores early in the morning and late at night.”
Since Binkowski was 10 years old he’s worked at Churchill Farms, taking care of livestock, tending the fields, and tapping maple trees for syrup.
“I take pride in that and I translate it to the football field,” he said.
That work ethic is clear on the field. He doesn’t give up on plays, constantly chasing down opposing players and making touchdown-saving tackles.
“Dalton always wants to make the play,” Birtzer said. “He always wants to be there, and tackling is hustle, and desire. ... He’s not going to let anyone beat him.”
Anyone or anything, for that matter. During the second half of the Wolves’ 2017 game against Pepin/Alma, Binkowski dislocated one of his fingers making a tackle.
It would have been easy to take the rest of the game off with his team up big at halftime, but that’s not the kind of player Binkowski is, according to Birtzer. Instead, he ran off to the sideline, a nurse popped his sideways finger back into place and he finished up the game, leading his team to a 44-22 victory.
That toughness has been clear to everyone since he first stepped out on the football field in 2016 to open his freshman season.
He was third on the team in tackles that season, racking up 55 takedowns for a 7-3 Wolves team. And after a pair of 133 and 147-tackle seasons during Binkowski’s sophomore and junior years, Elmwood/Plum City statistician Tony Holt realized he might be witnessing Wisconsin football history.
After some quick research last spring, Holt approached Binkowski to let him know he had a chance to do something really special.
“I had no idea,” Binkowski said. “There are games where it felt like we haven’t dominated teams on defense, and I don’t mean to be an individual guy at all, but it felt like I made the tackle every time they had the ball.”
And yet, even though he said his weekends are rough after the beating he takes on Fridays, he was surprised by the news.
“He always seems a little self-conscious when how well he does is brought up,” Holt said. “He doesn’t necessarily care about the statistics, some players will have five touchdowns and lose and be OK with it, Dalton could have no tackles and win, and he’d be OK with it.”
The Wolves wrap up their season with a road game against Flambeau this Friday before returning home on for an October 18 game against undefeated Unity. Though it’s unlikely Binkowski picks up the 42 tackles necessary to tie the state record, Birtzer won’t rule it out.
“If there is a kid who can pull it off, I would say that Dalton is the kid,” he said.