Throughout the trying times when the reputation of Redemptorist’s once-proud football program suffered immensely two-way starter Russell Gage didn’t look for the nearest escape hatch.
While the losses continued to mount, 12 consecutive dating to the 2011 season, Gage remained committed for the long haul and the promise of a better tomorrow when the Wolves were a pillar among the state’s landscape with three state championships.
“I love football, so I wasn’t just going to give it up just because it was getting tough or hard,” Gage said. “Football’s a tough sport. I never had any doubts.”
Two games into his senior season Gage, along with four other seniors, were rewarded for their perseverance when Redemptorist snapped its losing streak Friday with a 28-21 home victory over Port Allen
The last time the Wolves tasted victory was a 41-26 win over Dunham on Oct. 27, 2011.
“We hadn’t won in so long you’re going to have a little bit more excitement,” Gage said. “We jumped around a little bit, but at the same time we were tired. We got our stuff, wrapped it up and went home. It felt like it had been so long, which it has been. But we have to get ready for next week.”
When Redemptorist hired Terence Williams from Donaldsonville to revive its fortunes he quickly realized what he had in Gage — a 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete capable of playing a number of positions.
In order for the Wolves to function at their highest capacity, though, Williams placed Gage at quarterback to operate his spread offense, at cornerback on defense and on every special teams.
“He will make plays, and he’s going to have the ball in hands a number of times,” said Williams, whose team hosts Madison Prep at 7 p.m. Friday. “People are going to have to gear up to stop him. We’ve got some guys around him that will help, but everything’s going to go through him.”
That Gage would play quarterback wasn’t a departure from previous years when he played the position along with wide receiver. But his experience, along with improved play around him and Williams’ creativity, was expected to help Gage flourish in his final year.
Last week’s win was a clear example of the impact Gage can have on the Wolves’ success with 25 carries and 134 of his team’s 220 rushing yards and three TDs, including the game-winning score in the fourth quarter. Defensively, Gage made 10 tackles and is the team leader with 21 overall.
“I understand why coach put me at quarterback,” said Gage, an all-district pick in football and baseball last year. “I have the athletic ability to carry us. With me at quarterback, that’s a leadership role. I have to step up and lead my team. We have a rich tradition at Redemptorist, and I want to win more than anything.”
Beyond that Gage would like to extend his playing career.
During a four-day span under an unrelenting July heat, Gage went a long way toward making that a reality with a head-turning performance at LSU’s Elite Football Camp.
Of particular interest was the second day of the camp when Gage, a virtual unknown, competed at cornerback against some of the top receivers in the country such as Karr’s Speedy Noil and eventual Rutgers commitment Saaed Blacknall of Manapalan, N.J., and more than held his own.
Later that week at LSU’s 7-on-7 tournament, Gage was invited to play with the Louisiana Bootleggers, a team that featured St. Augustine’s Leonard Fournette, and once again Gage didn’t disappoint with his receiving ability and coverage skills.
Gage, who has offers from Tulane, La. Tech and Southern Miss, has taken two unofficial visits to LSU, including his first game in Tiger Stadium for the home opener against UAB.
“My parents always told me if you’re good, those (college) coaches will find you,” Gage said. “It’s the same thing in high school where if you’re good, colleges will find you. Coach said I had to come out and play like I know how, lead us and win games and the rest would follow. That’s happening now.”