Gabe Poe doesn”t fit the mold of a traditional linebacker.
Listed at 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, you might think Poe”s size would be best utilized in the secondary.
But every position is fair game when you have a motor like Poe”s.
“I think it is what makes him successful,” University of West Alabama defensive coordinator Robert Henry said of Poe”s work rate. “He gives it his all. He plays on all of our kicking teams. We definitely give him plenty to do, and he does a great job with it. We hope he keeps it up.”
Poe has been a standout in his first season at UWA. The former standout at West Oktibbeha High School transferred to UWA after two seasons at East Mississippi Community College. Last season at linebacker, he was fifth on team in tackles (84) and helped the Lions go 11-1, win the MACJC state title, and earn a bowl victory.
This season, Poe hasn”t lost a step. He leads UWA (3-2) in solo tackles (25) and total tackles (40). He also has three tackles for loss, one sack, one pass breakup, and one pass defended.
Poe has made an impact after transitioning from WILL (weakside) to MIKE (middle) linebacker early in the spring.
“I had plans to come in and, no question, be a starter,” Poe said. “It was motivation for me (to start preseason and not be a starter). I wasn”t going to give up until I was on top of the depth chart.”
Henry, who is in his first season as defensive coordinator at UWA, said the coaches had high expectations for Poe when he arrived at the school. He said Poe hasn”t done anything to let the team down even though he doesn”t fit the typical description of a MIKE linebacker. Henry said bigger players usually anchor the middle of the field, but he said Poe”s intangibles help him make up for what he might lack in terms of size.
“We want our best 11 in the game,” Henry said. “He has good quickness, a high motor, and he is a good tackler. He does a good job when he gets to the ballcarrier. He is a smart football player who has a big heart.”
Henry hopes Poe will continue to work on his pass coverage techniques and will continue to polish his overall game. He said everything Poe has done has met — and then exceeded — the expectations of the coaches.
Poe has gained confidence from his performance and from the fact he continues to prove doubters wrong. He said he is used to people saying someone his size will have a tough time playing linebacker in college, particularly at the highest level of Division II. (UWA was ranked No. 19 last week but dropped out of the national poll this week after a 41-37 loss to then-No. 19 Delta State on Saturday.)
But Poe has shown he can do it every week. He had seven tackles last week and has led the team in that category three times, including a season-best 11-tackle effort in a victory against Arkansas-Monticello on Sept. 2.
Poe said the same approach he took at West Oktibbeha High and at EMCC is serving him well at UWA: Prepare and go hard all of the time.
“That”s the key to everything,” Poe said. “When you know what you”re doing on the field you can play fast and furious and don”t have to worry about making mistakes.”
Poe said film study helps him pick up on keys that he reads in games so he can be a downhill linebacker who doesn”t hold anything back.
Henry said Poe fits so well at MIKE linebacker because his intelligence and athletic ability allow him to run side to side regardless of whether it is a running or passing situation.
Poe agrees he would like to improve his skills in pass coverage. He said he is learning to take deeper drops to help him compensate for his size when he goes up against taller receivers.
While some players would back away from those challenges, Poe takes them head on. He said focus and a mind-set of controlled aggression have helped him succeed when others thought he wouldn”t be able to do the job.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Poe said. “I know I am undersized. I have been undersized all my life. I think lot of teams passed over me because of the position I play and my size. But the coaches here gave me an opportunity to play and I have given them my all.
“I am a little more intense, I go a little harder, and I play with a little anger. Just because I am 5-8, 205 doesn”t mean I can”t make the same plays as someone who is 6-4, 220.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.