Down 21-10 in their biggest game of the season to this point, the Miami RedHawks are two yards away from punching into the end zone to cut the University of Toledo lead under a touchdown.
Star junior quarterback Brett Gabbert smacks his hands together, and before the snap even hits them, he’s moving toward the end zone. He doesn’t make it a yard before he meets the Toledo defense. Gabbert gets wrapped up. As he’s going down, clutching the ball like it holds the world’s secrets, a Toledo defensive lineman joins the pile and falls perpendicular on Gabbert’s leg.
Gabbert rolls over, flings his helmet away and pounds the turf in agony. An ambulance takes the field. An hour later, Gabbert is in a bed at Mercy Fairfield Hospital, awaiting surgery, the end to his magical season.
The Miami Student interviewed Gabbert a few weeks after the injury. Here’s what the star-signal caller had to say:
Schmelzinger: How have you been doing mentally and emotionally since your injury against Toledo?
You know, at first it was really tough, but I’m actually doing really well. Surgery went well, and the amount of support I’ve received from not only friends and family but teammates and coaches from our staff and teams around the country [has been amazing].
This sport has meant everything to me. The circumstances are tough, but I’m definitely doing better than expected. I’m very thankful for that.
Can you just take me through the moments after the injury?
So during the play, I knew it wasn't good. I heard it, felt it, saw it. I knew pretty much right away it wasn't great.
But I think if you look at things glass half full, as I've been trying to, I did get lucky. Nothing happened to my knee, nothing happened to my ankles. It's just my fibula and tibia. So, if you look at it like that, I saved myself weeks of recovery. That part I’m extremely thankful for.
All the trainers, doctors, paramedics, police: they made this process go extremely smooth. I think surgery went extremely well. So far things have been going pretty well.
I don’t mean to make you relive this, but you’re sitting there on the field, you look down at your leg, what’s going through your mind?
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You know, at that point I was fairly helpless — there really wasn't much I could do. I'm just really glad that we have such a great training staff and doctors and surgeons … without them it definitely would have been a lot harder.
Last year you only played four games because of injury. This year you come back and you’re kind of having a magical season. How does that feel to kind of have that be snatched from you?
Yeah, all injuries are tough. All season ending injuries are really hard mentally and physically. But at the end of the day, that's football. That's life. Life isn't fair.
I've just had bad luck in recent years with having surgery on my collarbone and my leg, but that's just kind of how life goes. I will say I’m proud of how well we were playing. I’m proud of how the guys have played since I got hurt.
Obviously it’s been a frustrating two seasons. Do you feel like you’ve been able to take anything personally from what you’ve experienced the last two years? Are you the same person that you were at the beginning of last season?
That's a good question. Yes and no … I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I just think that now with some of these injuries, I've been able to really enjoy the little things in football and in life in general. I’m just enjoying practice, enjoying fall camp, enjoying spring ball, being in the locker room, hanging out with the guys.
Once that’s taken away from you — in the blink of an eye, just like that — you just value it that much more, you realize at some point that comes to an end.
During this time, has there been anyone you’ve been able to lean on?
My trainers, I see them every day. They’ve really been helping me out a ton. And there’s also my family, friends and roommates. My mom has been in Oxford every day taking care of me, because I couldn't really move or get out of bed for a couple of weeks. She was doing everything. My dad has been here a ton too, he’s had to leave periodically for work, but without my parents, the situation would have been a lot harder.
What are they telling you about the recovery and rehab process for this injury?
I try to take things one day at a time. That really helps because I’ve been getting better every single day. My leg feels better, I’m moving it more. From what I’ve been hearing, I should be able to make a full recovery and play football again, if I choose to do so. But like I said, I’m not worried about that. I’m just worried about getting better tomorrow.
So they inserted a rod in your leg, are you going to have trouble at airports the rest of your life?
I hope not, but we’ll see. It’s titanium, so I don’t go off or not. My collarbone doesn’t set it off, so I think I might get lucky.
What are your goals? Are you hoping to play football again next year?
I’m just taking things slow, worrying about tomorrow, one day at a time. But I’m not going to sit here and lie – everything is on the table. I’m going to really weigh my options and see what I want to do with my life. I think football is definitely a possibility next year, but hanging the cleats up might be a possibility too. I’m only like three weeks post-surgery, so I’m not too worried about it.
After your playing career is over, what do you want to do?
I really can’t answer that for you. I think when it’s all said and done, I’d like to stay around the sports world just because it’s what I know. I’ve been around it my entire life, ever since I was a newborn. But yeah, I don’t know what I want to do.
Anything else you want to say to people listening to this interview?
I’d just let them know I'm doing well. Spirits are high, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this season.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.