By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Going into grade nine, Gabe Stevenson grew six inches, propelling him to an impressive six-foot-six. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that head coach Beau Wilkes and the rest of the Garden City staff decided his best fit was at defensive line.
“I actually wanted to play linebacker when I first signed up for the team, but there was a need for linemen, and with my height I was a better fit at defensive lineman,” Stevenson says.
“Naturally, I did what’s best for the team and it kind of went from there.”
Stevenson had played community football as a kid, but drifted away from the sport in middle school due to commitments with hockey. He was excited to return to the gridiron once he reached his freshman year of high school, but needed some pointers, as he’d never played defensive line before.
Cue fellow lineman Kieran Cummings — a member of the Saskatchewan Huskies Hardy Cup-winning squad this past year who was Garden City’s team MVP in both 2016 and 2017. He was instrumental in helping Stevenson grasp the concepts and flow of playing up front.
“It was great,” Stevenson says of his relationship with Cummings.
“We played together when I played for the [North Winnipeg] Nomads, so going into Garden City I knew him. Ever since I joined the team, our friendship just gotten stronger and stronger. I kind of see him as my mentor who I can go to and ask for advice or tips on how I can get stronger.”
With a year of experience under his belt, the 235-pounder felt confident heading into his grade ten season. He picked up three tackles in relief of one of the squad’s seniors who was injured during a regular season game and also played admirably in Cummings’s spot after he went down with injury during the quarter-finals.
From grade 11 onwards, Stevenson didn’t leave the field much. He grew another inch and was also asked to play offensive line for the first time.
“Obviously I’d never played on the offensive line, so that was a big learning curve that I needed to master. Luckily again, Kieran was right there with me to help me along the way. Not only did I get stronger on the defensive line but I got stronger on the offensive line too.”
Going into his senior year, Stevenson felt confident. The versatile end/tackle picked up 12 tackles and was part of a Garden City roster that finished 5-2 in the regular season, making it all the way to the semi-finals before being knocked off by Vincent Massey.
“With the group of players that we had, we felt like we could make a really strong push for the championship,” he says.
“Unfortunately it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we obviously gave it a good run having the best regular season that Garden City has ever had, but it’s a bit sour because we didn’t bring home a championship.”
While the final result wasn’t what Stevenson and company wanted, there was still a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mount Allison University had become aware of the big-bodied lineman and sent him an email in the week leading up to the semi-final contest. He talked back-and-forth with the team’s recruiter and eventually head coach Peter Fraser, who put his mind at ease.
“From what I was reading and hearing, I had a good feeling about [Mount Allison]. I was sold when I went on my official visit not too long ago when I went to the campus and met some of the guys out there. How welcomed I felt, it was truly a perfect fit in my opinion in terms of what I wanted academic and football-wise.”
Stevenson is big into drama and production and was very impressed by the school’s performing arts centre. He also meshed well with some of the professors he met that teach psychology and sociology — two subjects that he’s interested in minoring in.
While going pro is the ultimate goal for the Garden City product, he also realizes the importance of his education while in New Brunswick.
“I’m just focused right now on getting my degree. That’s something my parents have preached my whole life.
But I’m also going there to try and help the team in any way that I can. At the end of my career, I hope that I’ve proven to be one of the better players that Mount A has had and if that leads to a CFL or NFL opportunity, I’ll gladly explore it. If not, I’ll still be happy with what I’ve accomplished there, but hopefully my football career doesn’t end at Mount A.”