Gabe Elias had a solid high school football career at Leominster High School, playing alongside some outstanding players on some very competitive teams.
He also had chronic shoulder issues and knew every time he stepped on the gridiron could be he last. Dislocations were something of a norm for Elias, as was playing through pain.
Still, the Leominster native managed to put together a strong high school resumé as a wide receiver and defensive back, a multi-year captain for the Blue Devils before graduating in 2019.
But after his second major shoulder injury in as many seasons during his senior campaign, Elias was ready to hang up the cleats. And that’s what he did, going to Providence College for two years before moving on to Bridgewater State, where he’s majoring in Physical Education.
That all changed recently, as his Leominster High teammate and best friend Adam Couch challenged him to make the most of his final year at Bridgewater State.
“He convinced me to try to walk on to the football team. To just go out and give it one more shot,” said Elias, 22. “We’re big on manifestation, so once we put it out there, it had to happen. Obviously, I’ve never wanted to stop playing. I still wanted to get out there and I’ve always been a decent athlete. The toll on me was mental; I was used to the physical pain.”
Elias decided to give a shot at gridiron glory the literal college try and will appear on the Bears’ roster this fall, alongside fellow senior Couch, coming off a stellar junior season for BSU.
“To have a chance to play with my best friend again will be unreal,” Elias said. “At work, I’m in charge and his mentor, but on the field, he’ll definitely be mentoring me at this point.
“I’ve played football my whole life and was recruited by some local Div. 2 and Div. 3 schools to play, smaller local colleges, but it was never going to happen because of my shoulder injuries.”
Elias played through the majority of his freshman through junior seasons with only minor injuries, the normal bumps, bruises and stingers that hamper most players on a week-to-week basis.
Playing in a consolation game his junior season, Elias had a major dislocation of his left shoulder, resulting in a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage. He worked his way back for his senior season only to have a devastating injury to his right shoulder during Leominster’s Homecoming Game on the night he had been named Homecoming King.
“I realized it was over,” Elias said of his playing days. “It was a tough pill to swallow.”
Now as healthy as he’s been in years, Elias has decided it’s time to give his dream of playing collegiate football a go. He’s hoping to land a role of any kind with a Bears team that went 6-4 last fall, alongside Couch, his longtime friend, who racked up 1,020 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games as a running back in his junior campaign.
Given his time away from the gridiron, Elias has modest expectations. Just getting back on a football field is in itself a victory.
“Offense, defense, special teams. … Whatever I can do to make an impact, I’m going to do it,” Elias said. “I’d love to play as a receiver, but I’ll go anywhere they want to put me. I just want to contribute and play football.”