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Brett Gabbert’s Miami success is 12 years in the making

Twelve years after his first campus visit, Brett Gabbert is starting at quarterback for Miami.
Twelve years after his first campus visit, Brett Gabbert is starting at quarterback for Miami.

Brett Gabbert steps up to the 16-yard line at Kinnick Stadium and stares down the Iowa Hawkeyes' defense.

It's the first half of his first collegiate game, but the 19-year-old freshman quarterback is calm and confident. This isn't the first time he has stood in a venue that holds 70,000 people.

After one last pre-play look at his receivers, Gabbert calls "hike," catches the shotgun snap and goes to work.

Three steps back. His brown eyes look right. They latch onto a target.

Flick.

He floats a rainbow throw toward the back-right corner of the end zone.

Touchdown. The first of many collegiate scores to come.

While it might have been the first one to count, that play wasn't Brett Gabbert's first touchdown pass with "MIAMI" written across his chest.

***

Three weeks ago today, Brett Gabbert still didn't know if he'd play a single snap in 2019. As part of a three-way battle to become Miami's starting quarterback, he could've easily fallen to third in the race and watched Jackson Williamson or AJ Mayer line up under center for the RedHawks.

But he won the job, becoming the first true freshman quarterback in Miami history to start Week One. He wasn't told he was playing until just hours before his first touchdown pass.

"It's been pretty surreal," Gabbert said after leading Miami to a 48-17 shellacking of Tennessee Tech Sept. 7.

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In his three games as the starter, he's completed 59 percent of his passes for 481 yards and two touchdowns. He's added two touchdowns on the ground and turned the ball over only twice.

Brett arrived on campus more than four months after the position battle began. He didn't mind. He's always been the last in a three-quarterback race.

Both of his older brothers, Blaine and Tyler, were quarterbacks.

Blaine is 29 years old, and Tyler is 28. They look alike, with long, slender faces, light eyes and blond hair. Blaine is 6'5", and Tyler is 6'1".

Next to his brothers, Brett stands out. He resembles them enough to still be a Gabbert, but he's built differently.

Miami lists Brett as six-feet-tall, but he admits he's "officially" 5 feet and 11 and a half inches. Like his brothers, he's muscular, but his face isn't as thin. His hair is more brown than blond, and his eyes are dark.

Despite the age gap and physical differences, the Gabbert boys shared football.

"Whether it was with my brothers or my dad, we were always out there, in the backyard, throwing the football around," Brett said.

Blaine starred as Missouri's starter for two years, before the bright lights of the National Football League became too great to ignore. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and currently serves as the backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While Tyler never started, he attended Mizzou before transferring to the University of Central Florida. There, he threw seven career passes, including one touchdown.

"It was pretty cool," Brett said. "Most people don't get to have that in their family. A lot of people don't have two older brothers that have been there and done that."

Because his brothers are so much older, Brett started attending college games at the age of 8. He grew up in big stadiums, traveling every Saturday to wherever one of his brothers was playing. He even got to sit backstage with his family and dozens of future NFL players the night Blaine was drafted.

While his brothers were still in the recruiting process, 6-year-old Brett got to accompany his family to different schools around the country.

Their first-ever visit? Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

The RedHawks were recruiting Blaine, but Brett was struck by the place.

There are pictures of him wearing a red Miami t-shirt and standing in the middle of the team's locker room. Naturally, he's holding a football and grinning, imitating that same quarterback flick he would display against Iowa 12 years later.

After that day, Brett kept Miami in the back of his mind.

"I always told my head coach at my high school and my mom and dad and brothers, if I'm not going to go Ivy League or go to a Power Five school, I'm going to go to the MAC, and I'm going to go to Miami," he said.

As a three-star recruit, he wasn't pursued by those bigger schools. Missouri and Iowa never called like they did for five-star Blaine and four-star Tyler.

Miami became Brett's clear choice. He committed during his junior year of high school after taking his own campus visit.

"I visited other schools," Brett said. "No one had a campus like here, no one had the facilities like here. There were other great coaching staff, but I liked the atmosphere here. I liked the players here, and I liked the coaching staff the most here, so I was like, this is the best fit out of all of them."

***

After sticking with Iowa for 40 minutes but ultimately losing 38-14, Brett showered off, grabbed his equipment bags and headed toward the team bus.

He was greeted by four familiar faces. He knew his mom, dad and Tyler were in the stands watching him, but he had no clue Blaine was there. He wasn't supposed to be.

Blaine was in the middle of NFL training camp but decided to make a surprise flight to Iowa to watch Brett play his first game as a Miami player - something Blaine had thought about becoming more than a decade earlier.

There were no brotherly jokes or critiques. Only hugs.

"He said he was proud of me," Brett beamed.

@ChrisAVinel

vinelca@miamioh.edu

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