Matt Gabel’s uphill battle started a season ago when he dislocated a kneecap during the Wadsworth football team’s Midnight Madness.
After starting on the offensive line as a sophomore, Gabel missed his junior season and came into this fall having to fill in for one of the biggest names in Wadsworth history, Clay McComas, at right tackle.
That’s Division II second-team All-Ohioan Clay McComas, who the coaching staff named a practice drill after following the 2017 season.
“He was one of the best linemen in Wadsworth history,” Gabel said. “It’s big shoes to fill, but it helps, too. You envision yourself doing as good as him.”
The 5-foot-10, 230-pounder has stepped up for third-seeded Wadsworth (12-0) as it enters the D-II, Region 7 final against top-seeded Massillon (12-0) on Friday.
Gabel has been the glue for the record-setting Grizzlies, who lost Mr. Ohio quarterback Joey Baughman, two All-Ohio wide receivers and three offensive linemen to graduation.
“I couldn’t be happier for Matt Gabel,” Wadsworth coach Justin Todd said. “When he was a sophomore, he started for us and played both sides of the ball and before the season even started last year we lost him to a knee injury. He would have started last year, but we put him in a position we ask a lot of.
“We had Clay there last year, who was excellent for us. Matt has stepped right in and hasn’t missed a beat. We always appreciated Matt because he came back, rehabbed and did everything the right way to bring himself to this position to start and lead our offensive line.”
What makes Gabel’s plight even more impressive is how solid he’s been despite the unexpected revolving door Wadsworth has had along the line.
He’s technically a returning starter, along with left guard Logan Egleston and center Brendan Gordon, but things have been crazy up front other than Mason Fortner at left tackle.
Zach Linn and Luke Sommers were lost to injuries in Week 7 against North Royalton. Conner Raymond and Ben Lilly now share time at right guard, yet Gabel stays steady.
“A lot of times when you start shuffling your offensive linemen, you have to change your scheme,” Todd said. “We don’t have to change. Most teams would have to change what they would like to do. With Matt, you don’t have to change that mindset because he’s there. He’s going to be the consummate guy who is always going to be there and ready to work.”
The way Gabel sees it, game time is an extension of practice. As long as the front is on the same page, communication stays the same.
“We practice with guys in rotation, because you never know what will happen,” Gabel said. “There’s always guys getting hurt or if somebody needs a break. You get used to it after a while.”
What those around Gabel have found is a tenacious lineman who plays from whistle to whistle.
“I’ve been playing with the dude for six years,” Raymond said. “You just know he’s going to beat someone. He’s going to kick someone’s butt. He’s that guy. I don’t ever have to worry about him because he’s got it in his head that he’s going to beat whoever is in front of him.”
That attitude has put the Grizzlies in the regional finals for the first time since 2011. Wadsworth is averaging 38.7 points on 415.8 yards and has been held to less than 28 points only once.
“He’s been huge,” quarterback Trey Shaffer said. “Last year he was hurt, so having him back this year being the senior leader on the offensive line has been great.”
- Jake LoGuidice's drive brings success to teammates, Wadsworth
- History awaits as Massillon, Wadsworth meet in clash of undefeated teams
- The Treymaker: Shaffer has blossomed into standout quarterback
- Wadsworth's Mason McMillen shares district defensive honors
- High school football playoffs: Wadsworth comes from behind to advance to regional championship
- High school football: Wadsworth rolls against competitive Cuyahoga Falls
- Playoff points, unbeaten records on the line in early-season matchup between Wadsworth, Medina