Kearny’s Xavier has breakout performance in wild shootout against Snyder

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny sophomore running back Gabriel Xavier


By Jim Hague

The Kearny High School football team was watching their season rapidly slip away. After enjoying a victory over Columbia to start the season, the Kardinals lost three consecutive games and all in fairly lopsided fashion.
Plain and simple, the Kards needed a victory in the worst way.
“Our goal was to become the first Kearny team to ever make the state playoffs,” sophomore running back/linebacker Gabriel Xavier said. “We really needed a win to keep that dream alive. We needed to wake up and play better. We had to pick it up in practice and get a win.”
“No question, the confidence was a little shaken,” said second-year Kearny head coach Pete Llaneza. “We had to get some confidence and turn things around.”
Xavier wanted to be able to do his part to help the Kardinals, but the talented sophomore had been battling a deep thigh bruise that kept him from performing at top capacity.
“He’s been playing, but basically been gutting it out,” Llaneza said. “He was basically playing on one leg.”
“I’ve been going to the doctor every day after practice to get treatment,” Xavier said. “The doctor has been doing a lot of work on me to help me get better. I have been feeling better. I felt like this was going to be a better game for me.”
So when the Kardinals took the field last Friday night against Snyder, with their season on the line, Xavier felt like he could finally get a chance to shine.
“I felt like I could run with authority,” Xavier said.
That’s exactly what Xavier did, as he rushed for 234 yards on 22 carries and scored an astounding five touchdowns, leading the Kardinals to a wild and wooly 68-42 victory, one of the most bizarre final scores in recent memory.
For his efforts, Xavier has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Xavier is a football junkie, a guy who lives and breathes the sport.
“I just love football and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Xavier said.
“He came in last year as a freshman after another player got hurt and he didn’t flinch,” Llaneza said. “He didn’t shy away from anything. He just wanted to keep going. He’s an ultra competitive kid and as tough as they come.”
Xavier also competes in track and field at Kearny, as a long jumper and sprinter. However, in order to keep up with his off-season weight training regimen, he had to get the workouts done in the early morning hours.
“He would come in at 6:30 a.m. to do it, because there was no time after school,” Llaneza said. “And he became a weight room fiend. Every opportunity he had, he was lifting weights. He developed an extremely powerful lower body.”
“The first week getting up that early to lift was tough,” Xavier said. “But then my body got used to it. It gets easier, especially if you want to do it.”
Xavier could tell that the weight training helped for both his abilities on the track and on the gridiron.
“It helped a lot,” Xavier said. “It got my speed better and it helped my endurance for football.”
Llaneza likes what he has as a football player.
“He’s the kind of runner you want,” Llaneza said. “He runs hard and hits the hole fast. He’s a prototypical running back. He’s the guy you want with the ball. He’s been tremendous for us, especially after getting hurt. He gets his treatment, comes back and plays hard. If he could, he’d play football all day and night. He has the perfect build (6-0 and 200 pounds) and he’s very fast. Snyder had a tough time closing down on him and he was getting big chunks of yardage.”
Llaneza believes there’s one main reason why Xavier has been so successful.
“He’s extremely motivated,” Llaneza said. “He wants to be the strongest player we have. He wants to be the fastest. He has major goals in mind. When your best player is your hardest worker, it makes things easier for everyone. He’s only a sophomore, but he motivates a lot of people.”
Llaneza also thinks that Xavier’s best days are ahead of him.
“He’s very coachable and does things that he knows can be corrected,” Llaneza said. “He makes adjustments well. I’m really looking forward to working with him over the next couple of years. He’s challenging me to find new ways to use him.”
Xavier’s main goal is still a few years away.
“I’d really love to play college football,” Xavier said. “That’s what I want to do more than anything else. I feel like I can play in college. Games like this definitely have to help.”
So what was a sad situation a week ago now has some hope, thanks to Xavier – and teammate Eddie Flores, who scored four touchdowns as well. When you score 10 touchdowns and score 68 points, there’s plenty to go around.
“If we would have lost, that would have been devastating,” Xavier said. “This definitely does help my confidence and the confidence of the team. We all have to work harder.”
The Kardinals have a showdown with St. Anthony this weekend.

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