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How this BYU player tried out for the team, turned into a defensive star — and became ‘Gumby’ in between

Injured last spring, Gabe Summers hiked to the Y on the mountain every day and pushed his father’s Camry up a hill to get ready for the season

BYU defensive lineman Gabe Summers (98) celebrates a quarterback sack against Boise State in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
BYU defensive lineman Gabe Summers (98) celebrates a quarterback sack during game against Boise State at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Gabe Summers might not be the most interesting man on BYU’s 5-0 football team, but the story of how he went from getting no recruiting interest at all out of Saratoga Springs’ Westlake High to starting on the defensive line for the No. 10 team in the country very well could be.

“He has made the most of every opportunity he’s been given, that’s for sure,” said his father, Hyrum Summers, a former BYU defensive end who says Gabe “is way better than I ever was” when Hyrum was BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s teammate and played for the legendary LaVell Edward in the late 1990s.

Gabe’s journey from having to try out for the team when he returned from his two-year mission to Dallas for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is filled with so many interesting anecdotes and twists and turns that it is difficult to decide what to mention first.

So let’s start where it started: In fifth grade at Saratoga Shores Elementary School. That’s where Summers first met the girl he would eventually marry, Savannah Memmott. They lost track of each other for years, then reunited at BYU after their church missions — Savannah served in Guam — and were married in June 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Summers was put on scholarship last January — more on that crazy story later — so for more than six months “my wife was financially supporting me” as a phlebotomist, he said. Savannah was recently admitted to a physician assistant program, having graduated from BYU in microbiology last May, so that arrangement might not totally end.

“So, as you can imagine, I would have to ask for permission for gas money,” Gabe said. “I would ask if we could go shopping. I would say, ‘Hey, should we go out to eat tonight?’ She would say, ‘We have food at home.’ I would say, ‘Of course we have food at home. You are right. My bad.’”

Although he was a two-time all-stater at Westlake, Summers weighed just over 220 pounds in high school and 230 pounds when he returned from his mission.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to play football when I got back from my mission. I was just going to go to BYU and go to school,” he said.

But his cousin, starting defensive back Chaz Ah You, is on the team and his uncle Matt Ah You was on the coaching staff. Summers’ mother, Irene, is the sister of BYU recruiting coordinator Jasen Ah You. Then-starting defensive lineman Bracken El-Bakri also served a mission in Dallas and urged him to give it one last shot.

Summers wasn’t even a preferred walk-on before spring camp in 2018. As “just another random kid at the tryout,” he somehow managed to catch the attention of BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.

Hyrum Summers says that Gabe twice won 40-yard dashes at the tryouts, and when they were over Tuiaki and Sitake pulled him aside and invited him to participate in spring ball.

“If they had invited 130 kids to spring camp, he was No. 130,” Hyrum said.

Gabe called his father early in camp and said he had not received a single rep the first three practices. His break came the fourth day of camp when a couple of defensive linemen had to miss practice, and he rotated in with the fourth-stringers.

He made a sack and a tackle for loss, and the next day he was with the third-stringers. He hasn’t looked back since.

“He’s always had this incredible belief in himself,” Hyrum said. “As a father, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

When Gabe returned from his mission, he would text his dad every morning at 6 a.m. asking, ‘What is my workout today?’ Hyrum recalled.

Invited to join the team for fall camp in 2018, Gabe redshirted that year but was developing a reputation for being impossible to block in practice. He was so flexible and slippery that Tuiaki began referring to him as “Gumby,” and the nickname stuck.

“Coach Tuiaki said I just had very flexible hips. He said it made me a good pass rusher,” Summers said. “From then on, they all called me Gumby. Now it is the only name I hear at football. It is pretty much the only name I respond to at BYU, is Gumby.”

He appeared in six games in 2019, making eight tackles.

During quarantine in the spring and early summer of 2020, Summers not only got engaged and married, he was forced to get creative in his workouts because gyms were closed.

For instance, he would push his father’s car up a hill every day.

“It was hard,” he said. “It was not fun pushing that Camry from the bottom of the hill to the top, every day.”

Other times, he would carry his father on his back up hills like he was rescuing a Marine.

“We did all kinds of Jedi stuff,” Hyrum said. “We did all kinds of crazy stuff. We got really inventive. But whatever I came up with to do, this kid would do it.”

Gabe’s role increased in 2020, playing in all 12 games and starting in about half of them. He finished with 15 tackles (three for loss), two sacks and two quarterback hurries. But he still wasn’t on scholarship.

That changed last winter a few days after the Cougars beat UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl and Summers made life rough for that other Gabriel on the field, the Knights’ quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

Summers was at a swap meet in Hawaii last December when he decided to withdraw the last $50 he had in his account to make a purchase.

“I went to pull it out and I had a lot more than $50 in there,” he said. “I thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’ So I texted the coaches and they said, ‘Oh yeah, we forgot to tell you. We were going to wait, but you are on scholarship. Congratulations.’”

Summers says it was one of the best days of his life.

“Oh my goodness, it was definitely out of the blue,” he said. “It was like a huge miracle for us.”

However, adversity would strike again in the spring. On the first day in pads in spring ball, Summers tore the medial patellofemoral ligament in his knee, the ligament that attaches the kneecap to the inner part of the knee.

After conferring with multiple surgeons, who told him recovery after surgery would be about six months, he decided against a medical procedure.

His therapy: Hiking to the Y on the mountain above Provo four or five times a week before or after workouts with the team.

BYU defensive lineman Gabe Summers tracks down South Florida running back Brian Battie during game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Provo, Utah.
George Frey, Associated Press

“I really feel like that strengthened my knee up,” he said. “It feels really good now.”

Last summer, Summers would hike the Y and work out with the team, then lift again with his father when got off work.

“After the injury, he couldn’t walk for almost three weeks,” Hyrum said. “I did not think he was going to play this year. To be where he is right now is a testament to perseverance and hard work.”

Gabe Summers is now arguably one of BYU’s best defenders. He has made eight tackles in BYU’s rotation-heavy system designed to take advantage of depth at the defensive line positions and keep guys fresh. He is now listed at 290 pounds, after being around 230 in that 2018 tryout.

“You watch him and he is not the biggest, not the fastest, or any of that stuff,” Tuiaki said. “But he has worked really, really hard on himself in the weight room. He has gained tons of weight. He has done a phenomenal job throughout the years just preparing himself and getting bigger and stronger. He is one of the stronger guys in the weight room.

“He is a really difficult guy to block on the run and the pass. We have been excited about what he’s brought to the table,” Tuiaki continued. “He is just really flexible, really difficult to get your hands on, really slippery. All those attributes add up to him being a really good defensive lineman for us.”

And definitely one of the most interesting.