Early in his athletic career, it seemed clear to Gabe Brandner that he would have a future in college athletics.
The Heathwood Hall lineman never imagined he would be signing a National Letter of Intent with Duke University on Wednesday.
“I strongly felt that I’d have the opportunity to play somewhere, I just had no idea that somewhere would be in the ACC,” said Brandner, who also plays center in basketball and spends his spring as a pitcher for the Highlanders’ baseball squad.
Between his imposing physical stature — he was well on his way to filling out his current 6-foot-6, 246-pound form as a freshman — and his parents’ history as college athletes, Brandner was hewn for the next level.
But he also knew that opportunity might not fall in his lap.
In addition to workouts and practices, Brandner added extra work to his agenda. He signed up for as many college camps as he could fit into his summer schedule — eight, including four ACC programs.
“I picked those schools mostly based on my focus on academics, but I never imagined any ACC schools would give me offers; my confidence wasn’t really that high,” Brandner said.
“I just figured coming from a smaller school, I wasn’t going to get as much exposure, so I had to get out there.”
Highlanders coach John Wheeler was impressed with his player’s assertive approach. College coaches were impressed with everything else.
“Everywhere he went, he would get an offer,” Wheeler said. “He just went out there and did it. It’s not like I was beating down coaches’ doors. I wasn’t there for those camps; I wasn’t there giving him pep talks. The credit goes to him.”
Brandner puts great value in the advice and encouragement he has gotten from coaches Wheeler and Andrew Boyd.
“Both of them played football in college and they are kind of helping me get ready for that college experience,” Brandner said.
When Brandner told his coaches that he was aiming to play college football, Wheeler said they gave extra attention to preparing Brandner for the next level.
“We just encouraged him and told him the things we thought would be important, and we may have been a little rougher on him than some other guys on the team, trying to prepare him for some of the rough moments he will face in college,” Wheeler said.
As excited as he is about National Signing Day, Brandner knows it is just the beginning. He is in the midst of basketball season, baseball season is around the corner and his work has just begun.
Fortunately for Brandner, that is just what he was made for.