Former Abilene Christian University star heading to Super Bowl
ABILENE, Texas - There may be some purple mixed into the crowd at NRG Stadium in Houston for Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5.
That's because former Abilene Christian football player Taylor Gabriel will be playing in the big game with the Atlanta Falcons.
"Well, I've been a Falcons fan all year long," former ACU head coach Ken Collums said.
Gabriel played with the Wildcats from 2010-2013 and finished as one of the best receivers in school history with 215 catches for 3,027 yards and 27 touchdowns.
"It's kind of surreal," said Parker McKenzie, former ACU teammate and quarterback who is a current graduate assistant. "I was sitting at home watching him the entire time, just laying in my bed and all of a sudden you get the realization. I played with this guy and he's about to come home with a Super Bowl ring. Where's his jersey? I need to get it signed!"
Listed at 5'8", Gabriel has long faced doubters on just how far he could go with football. He wasn't heavily recruited out of John Horn High School in Mesquite, but landed at ACU.
"He can change direction like crazy," said Collums. "He had natural hands and he could adjust to the ball. Those are things that we knew ... Small guys in this sport have got to do more. It's a big boy game, and they have to do more. They have a tougher road."
"He's coming out of his breaks, he's fast and he's blowing people up, just like he did here," added McKenzie about Gabriel's transition to the National Football League.
Gabriel has made a sizable contribution in his first year in Atlanta, after spending two years with the Cleveland Browns. In the 2016 regular season he caught 35 passes for 579 yards and six scores.
"To see him get picked up by a quality team that's got it all together right now, to watch him have an impact on that team, it's pretty special," said Collums, who was Gabriel's offensive coordinator for two seasons before being promoted to ACU's head coach in 2012.
Gabriel wore a microphone during a game against Philadelphia this year, giving people an inside look at his goofiness and love for the game.
"That is the exact same person he was here. He would joke around during practice. He loved to dance. While we're getting our play, he's over there dancing," said McKenzie, whose playing time at ACU overlapped for two years with Gabriel.
As far as a prediction for Super Bowl LI, McKenzie, who is originally from Atlanta, said he was siding with the Falcons.
"I'm a Cowboys fan at heart, but the Falcons will always be my number two. And right now, number one because I've got to go with my boy."
"Without Taylor Gabriel's intelligence and his instincts, there's no way he would be able to compete on the stage that he's competing on right now," said Collums.
But he is. And he'll be showing off those attributes on the game's biggest stage against the New England Patriots.