WATSON – The sentiment won’t be lost on Live Oak middle linebacker Gabe Kimble.
Kimble will be part of a 29-member senior class that will be honored prior to Friday’s 7 p.m. regular-season finale when Live Oak (6-3, 1-3) hosts Central (7-2, 2-2) in District 4-5A play.
“It’s going to be sad,” Kimble acknowledged. “I’ve been with this senior class since I was little. The season just went by so fast. This is our Senior Night.”
The game affords Live Oak several opportunities to send out its seniors on a high note.
The Eagles could enhance their unofficial No. 27 power rating against the No. 16 Wildcats, thus potentially creating a more favorable matchup on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
Live Oak can also establish a school record with its seventh victory, eclipsing the mark of six that’s occurred twice during the tenure of fifth-year coach Brett Beard.
Then there’s been the personal journey for Kimble, who a year ago at this time, saw the remainder of junior season come to a halt. He suffered a torn ACL on the first play in a road matchup against Holy Cross, thus sidelining him for his team’s playoff game the following week at Acadiana.
“It was a blitz on our first defensive play, they ran to the right and I was there, and my knee just popped,” Kimble said. “I made a cut and it just popped. I still got the tackle.
“I was so sad because I thought my career was over, that I wasn’t ever going to do good again,” Kimble said. “Everyone was telling to work hard in the offseason, to work the knee every day.”
It was the first major injury of Kimble’s career which covered a span going back his days as a player in the third-and-fourth grades.
At first, there was uncertainty followed by the grind of a long rehabilitation process and ultimately the motivation to return to the playing field.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Kimble rode the ebb and flows of the aforementioned journey, working his way back from the depths of last year’s Week 10 setback to rejoining his teammates in time for the start of his senior season.
“You’re not sure how his body was going to respond,” Beard said. “The kid did everything that was asked of him. He was able to bounce back, was released in the preseason and knock on wood, has been healthy all year. He’s played well. It’s hard to say if he’s not our best player by the way he plays.”
Kimble broke into Live Oak’s starting lineup near the end of his sophomore season and has remained a fixture there ever since.
With the Eagles in need of a late-season spark Beard experimented with some of his personnel, including the move of starting linebacker Khalil Smith to offense and inserting Kimble into Smith’s spot opposite Blake Robinson.
It was because of Kimble’s emergence the move became plausible and the result became part of school history when the Eagles launched their first run to the Class 5A state quarterfinals, eventually falling to Acadiana.
That move seemed to help serve as a catalyst for Kimble going forward in the program.
“I was nervous starting,” he said. “I was OK, I felt comfortable. I was good friends with most of those seniors and it was amazing playing with them. I’m grateful I got to play with that class.”
Kimble rode the momentum of those late season starts into the spring of his junior season, beginning atop the team’s depth chart at middle linebacker. He wound up among the team’s leading tacklers with 84, piling up six tackles for loss, four sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and an interception – earning first team All-Parish and second team All-District 4-5A honors.
His last tackle of the 2018 season took place on the turf at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, setting off a chain of events that further defined his character and determination as a team player.
“I remember by first week of rehab, it hurt so bad lifting my knee,” said Kimble, whose knee surgery took place Dec. 26. “I knew I had to go through the pain for the first couple of weeks and it would start getting better. I wanted to get back on the field with my teammates.”
With the support of his teammates, coaches and family, Kimble worked his way back from his lowest moment.
He was medically cleared in the summer, thus giving him the green light to pursue his senior season in the manner in which he’s used to, chasing ball carriers from sideline to sideline and providing his team with an unmistakable style of leadership that belies his quiet nature.
“Whenever I put on that helmet, I’m just different,” Kimble said. “I like to have fun; play football because on the field we’re playing and having fun. I tried my hardest to play because it was my last year. I wanted to start, play good and help out my team.”
Beard slowly brought Kimble back into the fold, keeping him out of the team’s fall scrimmage and jamboree in order to unleash him for the start of the regular season. He’s arguably been the heartbeat of a defensive unit allowing 14.4 points and 159.4 total yards a game, having contributed 35 tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks.
“He’s an X factor, he's a big, physical force in the middle, but he can also run and arrives angry at the football,” Beard said. “He’s not going to say a whole lot, but he’s going to bring that attitude and swagger you want to build your defense around. He can do anything we ask of him and it’s been a lot of fun watching him because of the player he’s become.”