Brandon Gansch is a key player for Ramona, whose season has been dedicated to the memory of Gansch's father.
RAMONA — Playing in the shadow of Nathan Cherek as a sophomore and junior, Brandon Gansch waited his turn to be "The Man" on the Ramona High football team.
Gansch had no idea that on the night of July 21 his life would drastically change and he'd not only become "The Man" the Bulldogs would lean on, but his family, too.
About 9:30 that night, James Gansch - on his way to work - pulled out of a gas station onto southbound Wildcat Canyon Road near the Barona Resort & Casino.
His motorcycle was hit by a sedan that was turning left onto Barona Road.
James Gansch was ejected from his motorcycle.
Seriously injured, he was transported to Sharp Memorial Hospital where he died.
James Gansch, 39, leaves his wife Sandra, daughter Briana and son Brandon.
"It was crazy that night," Brandon Gansch said. "We didn't get a call about the accident.
"My sister saw a post about an accident near where my dad works. So we called his cell and a nurse answered.
"She said you better get to the hospital.
"When we got there, we waited 30 minutes. They moved us, and we waited another 60 minutes.
"Finally, a counselor came in and told us my dad had died."
"James Gansch was the ideal parent," said Ramona football coach Damon Baldwin. "He was very interested. He came to games, but let us do our job, trusted us with his son."
James Gansch's accident came the night before the last big passing tournament of the summer - The Battle at the Beach at Oceanside High.
Minus Brandon, the team sleepwalked through the event.
"We were in a daze that day," said Wyatt Scott, a senior on the Ramona team and one of Brandon's good friends.
"This team is like a family, so when he hurts, we hurt.
"We can't act like this never happened.
"All we can do is be there for him. Be a friend."
This is the second time the Ramona football family has had to endure a tragic loss.
In June 2012, former star running back Ryan Morgan lost his life in a motorcycle accident.
Morgan, an athlete at the U.S. Military Academy, was home on vacation when the accident happened.
Rheynard Morgan, Ryan's father, is an assistant football coach at Ramona.
"Rheynard and I always had a strong bond," Gansch said.
"Our situations are reversed - he lost a son, I lost my father - so he understands. Rheynard has a big heart and has helped me so much."
Rheynard Morgan has taken a step back this season.
He spends less time on the field and more time breaking down film for the coaches - quality control.
"Jim Gansch (who was a wrestler at Granite Hills) was a great dad, a perfect parent," Morgan said. "What I've tried to stress to Brandon is that death is real.
"Once it happens, it's final. It's brutal.
"But you have to move forward.
"My Ryan was special. Kids were attracted to him. Brandon is special, too. Kids like Ryan and Brandon are few and far between.
"Like Ryan, Brandon loves life. I'd be proud to call Brandon my son. He's that type of kid."
As a sophomore, Gansch ran for 825 yards and nine touchdowns. Cherek had 1,370 yards and 16 TDs.
Last season, Gansch had 888 yards and 12 TDs. Cherek had 985 yards and 12 TDs.
After four games this season, Gansch has 90 carries for 723 yards and eight scores for the 4-0 Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 6 in the county and play at No. 4-ranked Helix tonight.
"Brandon is good at hiding things, but I know his father's death drives him," said Ramona player Garrett Binkley.
"Brandon is one of the strongest people I know," said friend and Ramona player Dylan Shields. "He talks about things, but never cries.
"Ramona is such a close community. Brandon needs to be there for the team, but he also needs to be there for his mother and sister.
"So his friends need to be there for him."
Sandra Gansch works at San Diego Office Supply as a purchasing agent.
Briana Gansch, a Ramona graduate, lives at home. She's a full-time student at Cal State San Marcos, majoring in biology, and works weekends at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
"James never missed one of Brandon's games," Sandra Gansch said. "He loved watching Brandon play.
"And Brandon's friends are like my own.
"Brandon has always had an inner strength. It can't get any harder than losing your father.
"I'm in awe of how Brandon has stepped up to be there for me and his sister.
"No question, he's 'The Man' now."
The Gansch family. (Courtesy photo)