Jon Branche was a member of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute football team that reached the NCAA Division III national semifinals in 2003. His favorite memory occurred earlier that season.
“It was probably the most unique and fun game I ever played in,” said the Schenectady native about a playoff game contested in the snow against Ithaca at the old ’86 Field. “I was just a freshman, and we called it the ‘Snow Bowl.’ I had never been in a game like that. It started out with two inches of snow, and it ended up with 17 1⁄2 inches. It was backyard football at its finest. I just remember my late grandfather watching the game on the sidelines, and he had about six or seven inches of snow on his head.”
Branche caught a touchdown pass in that game, and he went on to snare many more. He still holds the school record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end (35), as well as receiving yards and receptions for that position. He also holds RPI school marks for most touchdowns in a game (five) during the 2005 season.
For those milestones and many other achievements, Branche was selected to join the RPI Athletic Hall of Fame this fall.
Branche (Class of 2007) was a three-time national NCAA Division III All-America. The four-year starter, who attended Colonie High School, graduated as the NCAA D-III record holder for receptions by a tight end (231) and yards gained in a career by a tight end (2,849). In 42 games, Branche averaged 14.0 yards per catch and 67.8 yards per game. The Engineers were 31-11 and earned three postseason playoff berths during his run. He was an all-league selection four times and was chosen to the D3football.com All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
“I had a good opportunity at RPI,” Branche said. “Even in high school, I was the kind of receiver that was better at catching the ball than blocking. Over the course of my career at RPI, I got better at blocking, but I always had the opportunity to use my athleticism outside. I was less than an historical type of tight end. I exploited being 6-foot-3 against smaller defensive backs. If we really wanted to, I could go down field and just block them out, like in basketball.”
Branche, who will be 30 in November, is now a vice president of sales for a health care technology company. He lives in Kansas City, but is responsible for covering the entire eastern part of the country.
“I got the call not too long ago about being inducted, and it’s quite an honor,” Branche said. “Some of my former teammates got inducted a little while ago. Any time you get inducted into something like this, it kind of validates your career.”
Former RPI head coach Joe King remembers Branche as being a vital cog in the Engineers’ great teams from 2003 through 2006.
“He was only a freshman in 2003, when we went to the national semifinals, but he was a big part of that team, especially as the season went along,” King said. “He became more and more of a factor for us. He was really a marginal I-AA type of kid who was talking to UAlbany and higher level schools, football-wise. Somehow, we got him, and he made a terrific impact for us. We would split him out at times. He would play all over for us.”
King laughed when told about Branche’s favorite game in the snow.
“I know why he liked that game. I remember Jon caught a TD in that game, and I still don’t know how he caught it, because it was snowing so hard. That was a great game,” King said.
Also chosen to be inducted at RPI’s annual Hall of Fame Banquet during Reunion & Homecoming Weekend Oct. 1-4 are track and field standout Dwaine Alleyne (Class of 2004), diver Greg Derevianko (2007), football/lacrosse player Adam LoGiudice (2007) and former head athletic trainer Anthony Ortolano, who retired in 2012.