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Comeback Husker

Nebraska-bound quarterback refuses to stand still

Posted: Wednesday October 3, 2007 2:06PM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 2:06PM
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Known for his competitiveness, Nebraska recruit aned Parkway West quarterback Blaine Gabbert is set on honing his skills.
Known for his competitiveness, Nebraska recruit aned Parkway West quarterback Blaine Gabbert is set on honing his skills.
Stefan Hester/RISE
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By Jon Mahoney, Special to SI.com, RISE

Those who know Parkway West (Ballwin, Mo.) senior quarterback Blaine Gabbert can attest he has a competitive streak that's second to none. His competitiveness even extends to fishing trips, where what should be a relaxing time with friends ends up being an all-out battle for the day's best catch.

So it should come as no surprise that Gabbert's favorite player is legendary quarterback John Elway, the king of fourth-quarter comebacks who willed the Denver Broncos to plenty of thrilling victories and two Super Bowl titles before retiring in 1999. While Gabbert has a long way to go before matching Elway's Hall of Fame resume, he does share with Elway an inner fire to succeed.

"Blaine is just competitive by nature in anything he does, and I think that's why he's so successful," says Parkway West coach Mike Roth. "I guarantee when we step onto the field on Friday nights that there's nobody who wants to win more than Blaine. That's a great quality to have."

That quality has helped place Gabbert among some select company. Rated Missouri's No. 1 recruit and the nation's No. 21 overall player in the Class of 2008 by RISE, Gabbert made a strong case to shoot up even higher in the rankings after earning MVP honors at the 2007 Elite 11 Quarterback Camp last summer. Gabbert was named MVP by the camp counselors, who just happened to be some of the best college quarterbacks in the country. Needless to say, being recognized by Andre Woodson (Kentucky), Chase Daniel (Missouri), Colt Brennan (Hawaii), Chad Henne (Michigan), Nate Longshore (Cal) and Mark Sanchez (back-up at USC) made the award that much more special.

"It meant a lot," says Gabbert. "I just wanted to go out there and show people that I wasn't overrated. It was cool meeting all of those guys. They just told me to stay relaxed, have fun and trust [my] abilities."

Opponents might chuckle at Gabbert wanting to show his lofty ranking was justified. After all, the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder has already proved it time after time in Missouri. Blessed with prototypical quarterback size that college coaches drool over, Gabbert arguably has the strongest arm in the country. But it'd be foolish to label him solely a pocket passer considering he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.

"All the physical tools he possesses are quite amazing," says Roth. "His arm strength is just incredible. Sometimes I have to tell him to throw a changeup instead of a fastball.

Gabbert's many talents were on full display last year when he completed 119-of-231 passes for 1,523 yards, 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He added 458 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 59 carries to earn St. Louis Post-Dispatch All-Metro honorable mention accolades. Those numbers helped the Longhorns advance to the Class 5 state quarterfinals, where they lost to Missouri's McCluer North, 35-33, despite Gabbert's 200 yards passing and four total touchdowns.

"In my mind, Blaine was the best player on the field that day," says Roth. "He didn't back down from anybody. He did whatever it took to get the job done. We just came up a little short. His competitive nature really came out that game."

Gabbert's breakout junior season was a testament to the amount of hard work he put in after a sophomore season, during which he passed for 1,265 yards, 11 touchdowns while running for two more scores as Parkway West went 3-7. The star signal caller logged plenty more hours preparing for his senior season. He also took some weight off his mind by committing to Nebraska in May over the likes of Missouri and Alabama, ending a recruiting process that at times grew frustrating.

"It's a big relief," says Gabbert. "It got pretty hectic. I was getting messages all the time. You just have to take what comes with the business. With Nebraska, I just got the hometown feel from the coaches and players, and the academics are second to none."

"I could see the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders after he committed to Nebraska," adds Roth. "There was a lot of pressure, but he really felt great about his decision. Now he can be a kid again and focus on Parkway West football."

Even with his college decision out of the way, Gabbert is still facing plenty of pressure this season. Since he's such an elite recruit, the spotlight seems squarely on his shoulders. And there won't be any brighter spotlight than Parkway West's Oct. 5 game against Parkway North on ESPNU.

Count Roth among those who believe the phenom can handle the expectations. The coach has been impressed with how much harder Gabbert has worked since gaining national recognition and that he's remained both a down-to-earth kid and stellar student.

"It's not a surprise he is where he is today," says Roth. "He does all the things you need to do off the field. He's an All-American type of kid who's also a great quarterback."

Not to mention the ultimate competitor.

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