E.A. Sports Today

He … did … go … all … the way

Centre’s Chambers electrifies with 109-yard kickoff return for Faulkner

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The first thing Gabe Chambers thought when the ball bounced off his shoulder pads and started rolling toward the back line of the end zone was his first mistake ever on any return team was about to cost his team some points.

The last thing his special teams coach said before sending the return team out for the second-half kickoff Saturday was he wanted somebody to score. He meant for their team, not the 11 other guys charging down the field.

But Chambers has always had a way of making something out of nothing. And what he did next was turn a potential disaster into one of the most exciting plays in college football on any level this season.

The speedster from Cherokee County picked up the ball that had gotten away mere inches from the end line and worked his way through a maze of players all the way for a touchdown in fourth-ranked Faulkner’s 55-14 win over Belhaven.

“Once the ball bounced off my shoulder pads and I heard this big ‘oh’ from the crowd, it just turned into instinct,” Chambers said. “Hurry, go get the ball and take it out of the end zone.

“By the time I went back it was already in the back of the end zone. When I picked it up I looked at the ref to make sure he didn’t call a safety and I made sure I was in bounds. It was about two inches away from being out. It was just unbelievable. I looked at the ref and then I saw three guys on that side.

“All I’m thinking is we’re up big, we come out for halftime and get the ball and here’s my first mistake ever on a kickoff return and it’s going to be for a safety.”

Instead, he turned two into seven. Officially, it went as a 100-yard return, because the NCAA doesn’t recognize anything past the goal line, but those extra nine yards and 32 inches were nothing for Chambers to ignore.

“All I can remember is if I knee it it’s going to be a safety because I touched it before it went back to the end zone,” he continued. “The next thing you know I’m seeing guys coming at me and I thought if I can get past this one I’m taking off.

“Once I knew I could get outside I had to beat the kicker. That hadn’t been a problem in the NAIA, but me and the kicker really had not gotten along my whole career. I knew if I had some blockers on the kicker I had to do something with it.

“It was just happening so quickly I didn’t realize I was in the end zone until I looked up at the ref and he held up his arms. When I saw that I just bent down; I was so tired.”

Chambers became the third player in the NAIA this season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He had a 99-yard kickoff return against Kentucky when he played in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but in his mind this one beats that by a mile.

“The Kentucky return was special for me because that year I think they were like the No. 1 kickoff (coverage) team in the SEC,” Chambers said. “But I’ll have to take this one over that because 109 yards, that was tough.

“You don’t see any athlete just go out there and try to return it from back of the end zone. I don’t think you see it in the pros. That’s kind of hard. I had like six or seven guys between me and the end zone before I took it out.”

While Chambers was trying his best to focus on this week’s game against No. 25 Campbellsville, the buzz from the play resonated throughout the week. Everybody, it seems, wanted to talk about the “109-yard return guy.”

The play earned him conference special teams player of the week. Friends distributed videos of it on social media. One of Chambers’ professors even told him it was the most electrifying play he had seen in his life.

Even the reaction on the sideline was priceless.

“My special teams coach looked at me and just started shaking his head,” Chambers recalled. “He said, ‘You scared me; I thought you were going to get us a safety.’ I said, ‘Well, coach, you told me score,’ and we both started laughing. That’s the kind of player-coach love relationship we have.”

(Cover Photo Credit: Ryan Bartels/Faulkner)

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