Double trouble: Donnerberg twins uphold West Linn football legacy
There's something to be said for an athlete whose biggest competition, largest rival and deepest inspiration is someone they're close to — much less someone whom they share a house with.
As far back as Joe Donnerberg can remember, that's been the case for his twins, Gus and Wiley.
"They've been battling since they were in their cribs," the elder Donnerberg, a former all-state West Linn-lineman-turned-Oregon Duck, said.
Once, when the boys were still young enough to be in diapers, he went to take the garbage out. When he returned no more than a minute or two later, they had mounted the kitchen island and were in the midst of a sword fight with knives they'd pulled from a drawer.
"Couldn't leave those two alone together for very long," he said.
On another occasion, when the boys were three years old, Joe was preparing to take them to the park to unload some of that rambunctious energy. In hopes of packing up the car more easily, he left the boys in the house to go move the car around the block and closer to the house.
Gus and Wiley couldn't find their dad and thought maybe he'd left them behind. When he returned, they were upset and confronted him.
"Dad, you cannot leave without these boys," they matter-of-factly told him.
They've tailed close behind ever since.
The Donnerberg twins, now high school juniors, are two-way starters for the West Linn Lions, much as their father was. Gus plays tight end and middle linebacker. Wiley plays wideout and cornerback.
"To be able to play at the same high school as my dad, and even have some of the same coaches as my dad, definitely gives me a little drive," Gus said. "I want to reach what he did in high school and meet the standard he set."
Joe added: "The program has evolved a lot since (my) days. We were not known as a football school." His younger brother Brent, the boys' uncle and a former Portland State Viking, was also part of the era when West Linn football was just an afterthought.
That seems to be changing, in part, due to the new generation of Donnerbergs.
West Linn's first state title appearance came in 2015, and the Lions won it the year after. Now, each of the Donnerberg twins has earned distinction as three-star recruits and are key contributors on both sides of the ball for a 4-1 West Linn program that's shot up to No. 3 in the 6A class, according to OSAA, under the guidance of first-year head coach Jon Eagle.
Eagle, the former head coach in Camas, Washington, won a pair of state titles in the Evergreen State before coming aboard the Lion program this offseason. The coach is still learning the personalities of his team, but the Donnerbergs have stuck out in the early going.
"(They're) super competitive in practice and games," he said. "Hard workers, students of the game, good teammates."
It's the first year since the twins started playing football — back when it was youth flag football with i9 Sports — that their father hasn't also served as their coach.
Joe misses it, and the twins can tell it's been hard for him to be in the stands and not on the sideline.
"He's kind of let me and Gus take our own path, but he definitely gets interested about what's going on with practice," Wiley said. "I think he still likes the aspect of being around the game."
On game days, Donnerberg takes up his spot in the stands flanked by his wife Lyndsey on one side with his mother Joan Koss opposite. Koss is the boys' biggest fan. She never misses a game. She's likely taught her son a thing or two about how to be a fan, and not a coach. It's a gradual process.
"I try not to make any comments unless they're positive," he said. "Being in the stands is difficult. ... It's just a different environment.
"(The twins) tend to talk to their coaches a lot more than their parents these days."
As a spectator, there are only two players Joe has to keep tabs on now. It's something he's used to in that the twins have always been on the same team. They've also been virtually the same weight and same height their entire lives. It made for the quintessential rivalry.
"There was a lot of fighting," Donnerberg said. "But they always seem to kind of work things out. Nothing lasted a long time, but it definitely made them tougher."
Gus and Wiley provide each other with the competitive juice that they both crave. As early as they can remember, they've argued about who is better.
"There's always been extra competitiveness on the field," Gus said. "Always trying to one-up each other and beat each other, but it's helped. It's helped me grow as a player and I've been able to always have a competitor next to me ever since I was little."
Wiley added: "If I wanted the remote and Gus had it, it turned into a wrestling match. If one of us got angry at each other, we would walk around messing with the other until he got a little mad. That definitely was my drive for the game (of football)."
Joe Donnerberg described Wiley as the serious type; Gus is more laid-back. They've been that way since they were youngsters. Minute personality traits aside, Donnerberg struggles to differentiate. Both yearn for competition and have become tough kids thanks to their hearty builds.
"With twins, everybody wants to point out the differences," Donnerberg said. "And with them, there's differences — but there's so many more similarities."
It's what's made them such great rivals, from the kitchen island duels to blowout wins under the Friday Night Lights.
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