The storyline runs familiar at most every college football program in the country. Players battle through adversity and injury and find a way to make a difference before their career is done.
Charleston Southern's story is Gabe Middlebrook.
The 6-2, 220-pound linebacker, who prepped locally as a three-year starter at West Ashley High School, has one final chance to make an impact on the program he joined in 2010 as a walk-on.
Middlebrook not only earned a scholarship but played in 10 games during his freshman season. However, over the next two seasons - 2011 and 2012 - Middlebrook managed to see action in 10 total games. He first suffered a knee injury (torn patellar tendon) followed by a shoulder problem (torn rotator cuff).
Last season, Middlebrook returned to participate in 12 games, totaling 37 tackles, but he never felt 100 percent.
Now, as a redshirt senior and a starter for head coach Jamey Chadwell, Middlebrook's sole purpose is to leave it all on the field, realizing his career as a football player will be over in late November.
"When I first got here, I heard that he was injured a lot and sometimes that label can stick on a player," said Chadwell. "He played and he helped us last year but something definitely clicked with him during the offseason. He has really worked himself into a player that we rely on. His commitment level has been off the charts and to be honest, we weren't too sure of that when we got here.
"It wasn't one particular thing or one big moment. I think he just grew up and took ownership of his career. He was here for four years and really didn't have tons to show for it. He wants to be remembered for more and he is working and performing that way. He's a big part of our defense as a player and as a leader."
Middlebrook feels he has always been eager to perform at a high level but admits the injuries affected his mental approach to football and to life. He even doubted at times whether or not football was meant to be.
"It was frustrating and I thought about giving up football," he said. "I was mad at God for putting me through this. But God has his own plan for all of us and he had a different plan for me. We go through ups and downs in life and we have to understand that he is in control. God wanted me to face this adversity and make me a stronger man."
In last week's season-opening 61-9 win over Point University, one play washed away all of the pain of the last few years. Point was driving for a touchdown in the second quarter when defensive tackle Caleb Batchelor forced a fumble. Middlebrook scooped up the loose ball and raced 85 yards the other way for a touchdown. The return was the second longest in CSU history and the fourth longest in Big South history.
As he neared the goal line, he feared he would cramp up and fail to reach pay dirt. Once he crossed the line, all of the agony and doubt was erased.
"This is it for me, my last year, and I am determined to give everything I have to this team and to this school," said Middlebrook. "My teammates have been there for me through all of the bad times. I owe it to them to leave it all on the field. I have to prove every day that I will be there for this team. That's what drives me every single day."
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