'He needed football': Gabe "Colorado" Brandt went from new kid to Mitchell football captain – Citizen Times
BAKERSVILLE — In small counties with a passion for football as fervent as Mitchell’s, it’s common to forecast the high school playoff potential of youth league teams as many as five years before they’ll be competing on varsity.
The group of Mitchell Mountaineers that will take the field for Saturday’s state championship game is no different; they’ve been playing together since elementary school, and their coaches have been keeping an eye on them for about as long.
Yet, for reasons his nickname alludes to, the leading tackler on this year’s team wasn’t on anybody’s radar until much later.
After arriving in Bakersville as an eighth-grader, Gabe “Colorado” Brandt used football to help find a place as a newcomer in a tight-knit community, benefitting from the structure of the Mountaineers program and developing into one of its best players with the help of meticulous film study.
“It’s been something that has really shaped him into the person he is,” Brandt’s mom, Patti, said. “They sure are passionate about their football, and I think he really likes that a lot. He’s done a great job there, and they’ve done a great job in coaching him and mentoring him.”
The Brandts didn’t have much connection to WNC prior to moving from the Fort Collins, Colorado, area in 2017.
Patti Brandt had been considering a move in search of a lower cost of living, and after reconnecting with some extended family from Raleigh, she settled on North Carolina. Not wanting to deal with the hurricanes of the Eastern part of the state, she opted for the mountains, touring three houses apiece in the counties of Yancey and Mitchell.
“I fell in love with one in Bakersville,” Patti Brandt said. “It was kind of a crash landing in a small town. It’s a lot smaller than the town we lived in, a lot more isolated. But I wanted a slower pace of life.”
Gabe Brandt noticed the tight connections many of his new classmates already shared as students at a middle school with about 50 students per grade, making for some natural feelings of alienation.
“It did feel kind of like watching from the outside. Everyone had known each other since pre-school and before that, going to church and going everywhere together,” Brandt said. “But I found some friends here and there.”
Travise Pitman, however, was going to make sure Brandt had a group to be a part of.
On the relatively rare occasion that a new family arrives in Mitchell County, someone in the school system calls Pitman to alert him if there’s a new student potentially interested in athletics.
Brandt remembers being “a stick” when he first got to Bakersville, weighing about 130 pounds with one year of football experience. Pitman detected some trepidation from Brandt about joining the Mountaineers program, but he wasn’t going to let him off so easy.
“Any time you get a kid that moves into Mitchell County, it’s a bonus. We don’t get a lot,” Pitman said. “I didn’t know much about him, but he said, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to play,’ and I said ‘No, you’re going to play.’ I handed him some workout sheets, and from that point on, I never had any doubt in him.”
After getting acclimated to football in his last year in Colorado, Brandt’s experience as an eighth-grader at Bowman Middle School solidified his desire to keep playing into high school.
“The first time I met anybody from school was during summer football,” Brandt said. “I was just really excited to play. I did really well playing my eighth-grade year, and I wanted to see if I could do that well at Mitchell.”
But at summer workouts Brandt ran into a problem: another player named Gabe. So began the nickname iteration.
“It started off with ‘Avalanche,’ but it changed to ‘Colorado’ real quick,” Brandt said. “And it’s stuck.”
His nickname was settled, but Brandt’s evolution as a player was just beginning.
For his first two years at Mitchell, Brandt kept the same self-described “balls to the wall” competitiveness he’d displayed ever since strapping on the pads in Colorado, and continued putting on muscle in the weight room.
He wasn’t yet using game film to its full potential, though.
“I would watch the film and just watch my position,” Brandt said. “That helped me grow, but in the last two years, I’ve watched what the offense has done, watch how they play and see what I can do to take advantage of that and play better than them.”
Midway through his junior season in the spring, Mitchell’s coaches began noticing the change.
In Week 4, Brandt’s team-high 15 tackles (two for a loss) and backfield pressure on multiple other plays helped the Mountaineers break a five-year losing streak against rival Mountain Heritage, a team Patti remembers a younger Brandt pledging to beat once he joined varsity.
“He has turned into a football junkie,” Mitchell defensive coordinator Jamie Miller said. “In the spring, he was just scratching the surface of how to play linebacker. This year, he’s really settled into understanding what they’re trying to do to us.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at adjusting during the play.”
On a third-and-four in the second quarter of the Regional Final against Robbinsville, Brandt flew off the edge into the Black Knights backfield, bringing down the running back just after the handoff for a one-yard loss.
As he got up and galloped back down the field, Brandt pointed at the Mountaineers sideline. Robbinsville didn’t know it, but the senior had called his shot days earlier.
Leading up to the game, Miller had suggested Brandt drop back off the line of scrimmage when the Black Knights ran the play they’d dialed up on that third down. Brandt suggested he could instead blow up the run before it ever had a chance.
“He just understands the game. Some kids get it, and some kids don’t,” Pitman said. “You can coach so far, but at some point, they have to make adjustments on their own and make plays. You need to have those type of players.”
This week, as Miller began going over the key plays Tarboro will rely on in the 1A state championship Saturday, he again found himself being interrupted by Brandt.
“He’s spitting them out before I can even say it,” Miller said. “When you combine that [football IQ] with a 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 frame that can move, you get a pretty special player. … He’s a coach’s dream.”
Brandt leads the team with 123 solo tackles, 13 tackles for loss and nine pass breakups this season. He also has two interceptions, a blocked punt and two touchdowns.
“He makes a lot of plays that most of the linebackers can’t make. Having him out there with the spirit and hype he brings is good,” linebacker Carter Hoyle said. “He puts in a lot of film work, and he tries real hard at practice. He’ll be like, ‘I’m going to kill somebody right here.’ He brings it every day.”
Until 2017, nobody could’ve guessed Brandt’s name would be among Mitchell’s potential first football state championship team. And before his emergence earlier this year, he wasn’t even an obvious candidate to be a leader on the defense in his senior season.
But his growth has helped him be embraced by a community that once seemed intimidating to break into.
“People know me through my son,” Patti Brandt said. “They’ll see me and say, ‘Your son’s on the football team, right?'”
A single mother of three (including Gabe’s twin sister, Shiloh, who’s on the Mountaineers wrestling team), Patti Brandt is thankful for the role the football program has played in her son’s adolescence.
“With the coaches and the players, that’s a whole other family,” Patti Brandt said. “They surrounded him with coaches that really care and take an interest in him and provide role models. … It’s a great thing to have in [the player’s] lives to help them stay out of trouble and focused on goals.”
The Brandts quickly realized how seriously Mountaineers country takes its football. Over time, Gabe’s approach to the game came to be just as zealous, and his celebrations of big plays shows the excitement he brings to the field every week.
Having been dropped into a completely unfamiliar part of the country as one of just a handful of new kid in a small town, though, some of the best parts of playing football for Brandt are simple.
“Just being with all the football players, that’s helped a lot,” Brandt said. “To have them as friends.”
Brandt will probably never be called by his legal name around town, but that’s fine by him.
After all, Colorado is one win away from becoming a Mitchell County legend.
“He’s one of those kids: He needed football. He loves it and he feeds off of it,” Pitman said. “His mom has done a great job raising him.
“We’re fortunate to have this kid.”
BAKERSVILLE — In small counties with a passion for football as fervent as Mitchell’s, it’s common to forecast the high school playoff potential of youth league teams as many as five years before they’ll be competing on varsity.The group of Mitchell Mountaineers that will take the field for Saturday’s state championship game is no different; they’ve been…