RHODY TAKES ON ALBANY SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19 AT 1PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.
“I had a spot on the team but started at the bottom of the barrel,” said the Cranston native who starred at Cranston East High School.
From preferred walk-on status to earning a scholarship, they don’t make success stories any sweeter or more satisfying than Gavek’s. There were offers to play at New England-based Division II or Division III colleges coming out of high school, yet he was locked firmly into proving himself at the highest possible level.
“You have that D1-or-bust mentality which can be difficult and not always the right choice,” said Gavek, “but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to see if I could play at this level by heading to a bigger school.”
Gavek’s story is one in which perseverance is its own reward.
“You take the opportunity you’ve been given and run with it,” said Gavek, who’ll be part of the pregame Senior Day festivities before the Rams close out the regular season against Albany on Saturday.
For someone who’s seen and experienced plenty during his five years in Kingston, Gavek – a redshirt senior listed as a defensive back – wanted to be part of the shift in culture that he could see coming under the leadership of head coach Jim Fleming. The Rams won seven total games during Fleming’s first four seasons on the Rhody sideline (2014-17). Should Rhode Island defeat Albany, it will mark two straight seasons of reaching seven wins in the regular season.
“Being part of the change was a goal I had in mind beyond trying to earn a scholarship,” he said.
By watching how others conducted themselves, Gavek instilled a personal belief system that was the opposite of what he sometimes witnessed during his football journey – regardless of the level.
“I’ve seen players who had the talent but weren’t coachable. That’s what ended up being a detriment to them. I didn’t want that to be my problem. I knew the coaches had more knowledge about the game,” said Gavek. “Working hard every day and listening to what the coaches had to say … head down and keep on the grindstone. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, be ready and available.”
From serving as a scout team contributor, to appearing in three games on special teams in 2018, Gavek kept on, and in his words, “sharpening that iron. Regardless of the role, you put your all into it. For my own psyche, it was a sign that what I was doing was working. We just had to keep going.”
The breakthrough moment that led to a significant development took place on November 2, 2019. It was the game of all games for Gavek, who tormented Merrimack with a career-high 14 tackles. That was the tip of the iceberg. In the same contest held at Meade Stadium, he recovered two fumbles and returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
“That was the game that earned me a scholarship,” said Gavek.
Fleming personally delivered the life-changing news to Gavek with his mother Tracy by her son’s side.
“He told us that he was going to take care of us,” said Gavek, reflecting on a conversation with the head coach that took place after the aforementioned Merrimack game. “After that [2019 fall] semester, I got put on scholarship.
“Having my mom right there to hear that news from the big man himself, it was just a heartwarming moment … one we were looking forward to for so long,” Gavek added.
With an undergraduate degree in communications, Gavek is currently working towards another degree that someday lands him a job in the nursing field. Since the 2021 spring season, he’s been a mainstay in the Rams’ lineup, appearing in 24 games.
Finishing out his college career at the same spot where it was launched was the driving reason Gavek elected to use his two additional seasons of eligibility – he was redshirted in 2017 with the NCAA in 2020 awarding another year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This meant the local product would be able to have a say in the actual turning point in the narrative surrounding the URI program.
“I came here for a reason. This is the place. This is home,” said Gavek. “Actual changes in the program were happening so it made sense to remain part of that process.”
As Gavek approaches the home stretch of his URI playing career, he does so keenly aware of the chance he has to pay it forward to those who face an uphill climb and harbor hopes of someday becoming a scholarship player.
“There’s no point in me keeping my experiences to myself,” said Gavek. “I should share with people the blueprint of what to expect … understanding the grind and the commitment that it’s going to take, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.