It can all end in a flash

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Immanuel Gamble, left, had 208 carries for Greenville last year but has been sidelined permenently.
d3photography.com file photo by Ryan Coleman

If there is one thing Manny Gamble would like other football players to remember it’s to cherish every moment on the field because you never know when your time is up.

“Play every down and go into every practice – every drill – like it’s your last,” Gamble said. “Tomorrow’s not promised, the next drill’s not promised and the next game’s not promised. Have no regrets.”

That’s the message Gamble is trying to instill in Greenville’s young group of running backs.

After leading the Panthers in rushing during the 2012 season and securing first-team all-conference recognition in addition to offensive player of the year honors in the UMAC, Gamble developed an extreme heart condition that ended his playing career. Now he’s serving in a coaching role, working with the running backs that have Greenville off to a 4-0 start.

Greenville experienced a few shocking developments earlier this spring. Coach Ordell Walker resigned in June after spring practice, backup quarterback Luke Moore left the program after being diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma – a type of bone cancer – and Gamble had his own battle with health. All of which happened in a span of about three weeks.

“It was kind of a crazy offseason for us in general,” said Robbie Schomaker, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim head coach after Walker’s departure.

So far all three events have had a positive turn. Schomaker and the Panthers are undefeated through four weeks. Moore continues to improve. He even surprised the team in the locker room, inspiring the team prior to a 48-41 win over Millikin in Week 1. And Gamble is mentoring a group of running backs that have amassed 1,029 yards already.

However, Gamble is fortunate to be back with the Greenville program.

His workout on June 19 was like many others at a nearby YMCA. After his weight training, he would often play basketball for the cardio benefits. But after a couple games of basketball, he began to feel disoriented.

“I started feeling real tired and real drowsy,” Gamble explained. “Instead of recovering afterward, I just kept getting more tired, more drowsy and light-headed.

“I just collapsed to my knees and my friend helped me up,” he continued. “All this time, I didn’t think it was too serious.”

Gamble was taken to the hospital and he began to realize the situation was dire when nurses reacted to his heart rate on the monitor and immediately started rushing around.

“They say I passed out and had like two seizures,” Gamble said. “The next thing I know I woke up in the bed feeling normal again.”

But he was far from normal. Doctors had to use a defibrillator to keep Gamble alive.

“They had to shock me twice to get my heart rate back down because my heart rate went into something called ventricular tachycardia. That’s when the heart rate speeds up very, very fast and it beats from the bottom up versus top to bottom. So it was beating irregularly,” Gamble explained, noting his heart was pumping at a rhythm of 210 beats per minute. “Blood wasn’t getting to the rest of my body and oxygen wasn’t getting to the rest of my body and brain. That’s why I was feeling light-headed and drowsy.

“For a heart to beat at that high of a level for that long, most people don’t make it out alive. Because my heart was so strong, I was able to hold on,” he said. “When I look back at it, it was because of football workouts that I had been doing. That was the only reason I think I could hold on that long.

“I like to say that football kind of saved my life.”

Gamble went through a week of testing after his episode because there was a sliver of hope he could play football again. But his condition – which may be genetic – was too severe, which ruled out playing football.

“Obviously, I was shocked. I was hurting for him,” Schomaker said. “I was hurting for him because he had really transformed himself into a really good running back. He had put in a lot of work this offseason.”

While Gamble dealt with the disappointment of not playing, his teammates had concerns too. Schomaker said the others were worried about their friend and the running back that rushed for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. It seemed the team could not avoid misfortune.

“They were curious about what was going to happen next,” Schomaker said. “With the head coach leaving, then we had a quarterback on the team that was diagnosed with cancer a week before we found out about Manny.”

Gamble, who is in his senior year studying biology with an emphasis on physical therapy, told his coach that he wanted to finish his school work and was interested in being involved in the program.

“I just wanted to help any way possible,” Gamble said.

Schomaker spoke with running backs coach Garrett Orr about making room for Gamble to serve as an assistant and a mentor.

“We call it a servant warrior, but really he’s kind of the assistant running backs coach,” Schomaker said. “He’s really helped those guys learn the offense and thrive.”

Gamble’s knowledge of the offense and the game appear to be paying off. Despite inexperience at the position, Greenville is seeing a lot of success from new running backs in their option offense. 

“It’s been incredible. It allows me to focus on the overall picture of the offense because I know when those guys do make mistakes, Manny is going to be there,” Schomaker said. “It’s nice to have someone who’s been through the battle.

“He just has a different perspective than we do as coaches to connect with those guys.”

Sophomore Jacob Stull has a team-best 442 yards and four touchdowns while transfer Zibeon Washington has chipped in 233 and three scores.

In addition, Shawn McKnight, who transitioned from wide receiver, has 210 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, and freshmen Carson Guzman has 144 yards and a score – including 99 in last week’s blowout win over Martin Luther.

“Coming into camp, I didn’t know what we could expect from the running back position because, I think, Jacob got a total of two snaps on varsity last year and Shawn had never played running back in a game before,” Schomaker said.

“Manny’s mentorship of these young guys has really helped them develop and helped us as an offense,” the coach continued. “Even though we miss him on the field, he’s still making a huge impact for us.”

Although it can be difficult at times for Gamble to sit back and watch the others play the game he loves, he is excited about Greenville’s potential in the UMAC. He credits the team’s chemistry for its early success.

Schomaker is optimistic as well, but is working to keep the team focused on making improvements all the time.

“We take it a game at a time, and we really try to focus on closing the gap between our potential and our performance. We want our performance to be as close to our potential as we can possibly get it,” Schomaker said.

That said, he would still like to bring home a UMAC championship after sharing it with St. Scholastica and Northwestern (Minn.) last season.

“Obviously, we shared the conference title last year and we would like to win that thing outright,” Schomaker said. “But really it comes down to is, are we getting better every day?”

That’s the message Gamble wants his teammates to receive too. Improve every day because it could be your last.

Talley sidelined after win

Josh Sinnen scored on runs of 56 and 87 yards en route to 200 yards rushing, leading Northwestern (Minn.) to a 27-14 homecoming win over Crown.

While the team celebrates the victory, head coach Kirk Talley is recovering from an appendectomy performed Sunday afternoon. The surgery went smooth and Talley is expected back with the team later this week, according the university’s sports information department.

Associate head coach Bryan Johnson is overseeing team operations while Talley is away.

The rest of the West

Pacific Lutheran survived a scare from UW-Eau Claire. After Joel Sweeney scored a touchdown with 41 seconds to play, the Lutes’ defense stopped the UW-EC running back on the ensuing two-point conversion to preserve a 21-19 victory. … St. Scholastica coach Greg Carlson picked up win No. 150 when the Saints defeated Westminster (Mo.) 41-13. Jake Jensen broke Christopher Henagin’s career rushing record of 2,043 in the first quarter and finished the contest with 124 yards and two touchdowns. … Central was the only IIAC school in action this week. The Dutch picked up a 31-6 win at home versus Albion thanks to three scoring runs by Josh Osborn. He finished with 192 yards on 31 carries. … Michael Lahey threw for 170 yards and three touchdowns to help Chapman defeat Whitworth 38-17. The Panthers are now 2-0 overall headed into SCIAC play this week versus Whittier.

Rank ’em

Nine teams from the West are ranked in this week’s Top 25 poll, including five in the top 10.

Linfield remains the No. 2 ranked team nationally after making a long trip to Case Western Reserve and returning home with a 45-0 victory. The Wildcats have now outscored their opponents 168-35.

MIAC rivals Bethel and St. Thomas remained ranked Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, while WIAC foes UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville stayed at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively.

Pacific Lutheran dropped one spot to No. 11 after a close win and UW-Whitewater checks in at No. 12.

Coe is No. 20 again this week and Concordia-Moorhead enters the Top 25 this week at No. 23.

Augsburg (31), Cal Lutheran (30), Willamette (25) and St. John’s (24) all received votes this week. Cal Lutheran and St. John’s both dropped out of the Top 25 this week.

Number of the week

555 – as in the number of yards UW-Oshkosh gained in a blowout win over Alma. The Titans outgained Alma 555-75 as they went on to win 56-3 at J.J. Keller Field. Nick Olla passed for 265 yards – 106 going to wide receiver Caleb Voss. Cole Myhra accrued 69 of Oshkosh’s 209 rushing yards.

Looking ahead

Augsburg travels to Bethel for a MIAC showdown Saturday. Both teams enter with 3-0 conference records – ½ game back of league leader Concordia-Moorhead. Bethel will travel to Concordia-Moorhead the following week and Augsburg will face the Cobbers on Oct. 26. These three games will play a huge role in eventually determining a conference champion.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, break-out players or any other storylines in the West. Or just drop me a note and let me know what you like or don’t about the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter at @DU_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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