Gabriel Smalley usually knows he has full support of his family.
Though he is afraid in a few weeks, that support could wane for a couple of hours.
Smalley is the starting quarterback on the Abraham Lincoln High School football team, and he has the Railsplitters rolling along in the Public League playoffs. And he has a few big games ahead of him where he knows he can count on his brothers.
Then there’s Thanksgiving, when Smalley’s Railsplitters face off against Father Judge, the alma mater of his older brothers Paul and Matt.
That will be the ultimate test of brotherly loyalty.
“They both told me they’ll be on the Lincoln sideline and cheer for us,” said Smalley, who also has another brother Caleb, who attended Southern. “I think secretly they’ll root for Judge. They’re football players. But they’ve done so much for me, I know they’ll be happy for me.
“What did I learn from them? Everything. How to be a better leader on the field, how to be more responsible, take this game seriously and bounce back when you have adversity. I use every single drop of what they taught me, every shred of information they gave me. I use it every day in life and I also take it out on the field with me.”
Apparently the brothers are great teachers and mentors because they have their little bro doing everything he needs to do to become a winner.
And we’re not talking about winning a few games here or there.
For the second year in a row, the team once known as stinkin’ Lincoln will be playing in the Public League Class 6A championship.
The Railsplitters whitewashed Southern/Furness 48-0 to advance to next weekend’s championship game. It will be a rematch from last year’s game, where Northeast defeated Lincoln. The game will be played noon Saturday at Northeast.
Against Southern/Furness, Smalley had a game all fantasy football players would love.
He threw for 270 yards and four touchdowns and added another rushing TD. He also blasted a pair of field goals – from 34 and 35 yards out. The first one was Lincoln’s first successful field goal since 2011.
It was a great game for Smalley, who has more than 2,000 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, 255 rushing yards and four more scores on the ground.
He’s been working on proving himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in the area, and it’s hard to argue with his numbers as well as his team’s success this year.
But just as he gets the ball to teammates, he has a quick release when passing on praise, too.
“I don’t think it’s one thing, I think the best thing about this team is the chemistry,” Smalley said. “The best part is the culture, it’s beautiful. Everyone works hard, everyone is upbeat, we all love each other. It’s a community, a family. It starts with the coaches, they are so positive, they care about us. And it goes to the players. We’re one big family, a community.”
This year is everything Smalley has worked for his entire life.
While his brothers were athletes who played multiple positions, Smalley has been a quarterback for the bulk of his career. Now he’s a championship-caliber quarterback, but it wasn’t that long ago when he was putting in a lot of work and not getting much success. Instead of quitting, he just worked harder.
“When I was young, I always had a naturally good and strong arm, but I never used it,” Smalley said. “One year I decided I wanted to try quarterback when I was playing for Crispin. I didn’t have the best start. We went 0-8 and I didn’t think I was very good at all.
“I stayed with it and worked really hard. I had a lot of help, too. It was definitely worth it. I’m now a two-time All-Public quarterback two straight years.“
He went through sort of the same thing this year when the Railsplitters started their season with some tough losses. But looking back, while they counted as losses in the standings, they are one of the reasons the Railsplitters are still playing.
“Oh for sure, the nonleague schedule helped us find who we are, we can compete with anyone,” said Smalley, whose team is now 5-4 on the season, but their losses to start the season were to Downingtown West, Roman Catholic, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and Imhotep Charter. “All of the games, we were in them. All losses were one score or less. At a point, everyone’s heads were down, we had a meeting, and we talked about what we’ll do differently and it’s been working.”
And Smalley is doing anything he can to make sure the good times keep rolling.
“My role is to be a captain, one of the leaders of the team,” he said. “I try to lead my team through thick and thin, whatever.
“I always have their back. I’ve always wanted to be a leader. I love leading people in the right direction. I want to help people, help them up, being a quarterback helps. They say they need to look up to me. But I try to lead my troops. Doesn’t matter if I’m on the sidelines or on the water bench.”
And with one more win, he can help bring back the plaque to Rowland Avenue for the first time since 1979
“It feels amazing, you know, thinking about being the first team at Lincoln to win a championship since 1979 is outstanding,” Smalley said. “It feels outstanding. We can be one of the best teams in Lincoln history. I love that we can do that for the school.”