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21

Oct, 2019

Gabe Gaines High School Player of the Week

By all means, Gabe Gaines had a successful freshman season.

He was a varsity starter for Kent Roosevelt — and acquitted himself relatively well in the ultra-challenging Suburban League.

That wasn’t enough for Gaines.

“I wanted to get better,” said Gaines, now a senior. “I really wanted to help my team in a bigger way than I was. I wanted to make sure my first touch got better, shots got better, everything like that.”

So the UH Portage Medical Center Athlete of the Week joined Everest Soccer Club after his freshman season.

“I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the game when I first started so the real change for me becoming a real soccer player was freshman year I started playing club soccer with Everest,” Gaines said. “I’ve been playing with them for the last three years and that’s what really jumped my soccer ability.”

According to Rough Riders coach Kiel Cox, Gaines had always been a standout. The veteran coach could see that from middle school — even earlier. He remembered seeing a kid who loved to compete, who was scrappy.

“He was always one of the ones that he competed,” Cox said. “You could tell that he loved the game. His skills were even coming along back then, but I was always just so impressed with his drive and his competitive spirit.”

Having moved from Akron, where he was more into baseball and knew little about soccer, to Kent when he was young, he had an immediate leg up when he started soccer at age 8.

“I’ve always been pretty fast,” Gaines said. “As soon as I started, I was faster than most kids, so it started out as me just running past kids, but then I ended up getting a lot better.”

It wasn’t just 100-meter dash speed.

It was persistence. It was the way Gaines stuck with the ball even after a missed shot and kept hounding an opposing defender. It was the way he would keep on it — even if he had already scored a goal or two and his team was ahead.

“The best way I describe Gabe is that he’s kind of old-fashioned,” Cox said. “Gabe is like an old-fashioned Premier League player. He thrives in those gritty moments.”

And so even when Gaines was just a freshman and even before he started playing at Everest, Cox saw a player who was ready for the physicality of varsity soccer.

“Being a varsity starter pretty much right away as a freshman, it’s not easy, but you could tell he was developed enough, strong enough,” Cox said. “He had the frame where he could handle it a little bit physically, so we pretty much started him day one, just said, ‘Hey, we know you’re going to make mistakes, we know you’re a freshman,’ but yeah, he was one of those kids, as soon as he walks into the door, he was a varsity starter.”

Gaines continued to dedicate himself to the game.

It wasn’t just Rough Riders soccer and it wasn’t just Everest soccer. He simply loved the game. Ask about his favorite soccer team or favorite player and you can hear the excitement in his voice.

From Barcelona — from greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — he absorbed the game like a sponge.“They’re amazing to watch,” Gaines said with palpable enthusiasm. “Anything you’d ever want to learn, you can learn from watching them play, so I love both of them.

“Anything from your first touch to your off the ball movement. How to make a run, moves to pull on defenders, like quick moves or simple moves. How to shoot, where to shoot. Just simple things. How to manipulate the game. There’s a lot you can learn.”

Gaines is part of a senior class that has changed the face of Roosevelt soccer. The Rough Riders were a dynasty back in the Portage Trail Conference but had struggled to compete in the Suburban American. In a conference so good that when it came to state-ranked teams, per Cox, the question wasn’t “Who?” but “How many?”

“In the PTC, we were kind of kings of the castle,” Cox said. “Kent pretty much dominated the PTC at soccer, so we come to the Suburban League and it’s a different planet. It’s not even a different league. It was a completely different atmosphere and the competitiveness and every kid plays club soccer and we had to totally change.”

Progress took time — with 1-4-1 records in the Suburban American in 2017 and 2018, including a 7-2 loss to Copley and a 7-3 loss to Highland last season. But this senior class, led by Gaines, was ready to raise the bar.

And they have, picking up wins over Aurora, Highland and Tallmadge for a 3-1-0 record in league play.

A 7-3 loss to the Hornets a year ago turned into a 4-2 win. A two-goal loss to the Greenmen turned into a one-goal win. The same happened in cross-division play against Cuyahoga Falls — from 2-0 loss to 1-0 victory.

That’s a legacy Gaines is proud of — and wants to help continue.

“It will always have a special place in my heart because it’s been where I’ve developed the most as a player from freshman year to now senior year,” Gaines said. “I’ve grown exponentially because I went from someone that I didn’t know how to play soccer and was just an athlete to now a soccer player and I’m able to help my teammates and able to score goals.

“Even once I graduate, I want to try to stay involved with the school and see the upcoming talent because our middle school right now, we have a bunch of great players coming up. It’s going to be exciting to see the future.”

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