Last Updated: Wed Nov 15, 2023 - 7:37PM
Over the past decade, few football teams in the WPIAL have enjoyed as much success as Penn-Trafford. While the Warriors have found great team success, the program has also produced a bevy of individuals who have thrived at the college level. Among those standouts is Gabe Dunlap, who is a two-sport athlete at Grove City College. Dunlap is under the microscope for this edition of the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
At Penn-Trafford, Dunlap began to earn playing time as a sophomore in 2017, as he went 1-for-3 for eight yards as a passer, and rushed for 26 yards. That season, PT went 11-2 overall, including 7-1 in conference play. The Warriors defeated Fox Chapel Area and Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs, reaching the championship at Heinz Field. However, Penn-Trafford fell to rival Gateway in the title game.
The next season, Dunlap became the starting QB, and posted a prolific campaign. He connected on 81-of-143 attempts for 1,306 yards, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. Additionally, he rushed 128 times for 971 yards, scoring a dozen total touchdowns. Penn-Trafford compiled a mark of 9-3, including 6-1 in the conference. In the postseason, the Warriors bested North Hills, but fell to Peters Township in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
As a senior in 2019, Dunlap solidified himself as one of the top offensive players in the classification, as he completed 105-of-178 throws for 1,763 yards, with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing 160 times for 1,164 yards, scoring a dozen times. The Warriors amassed a mark of 11-2, including a perfect 6-0 in the conference. Back in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs, the Warriors ousted Fox Chapel Area and Upper St. Clair, but fell to Peters once again, this time in the semifinals.
Following his graduation, Dunlap matriculated to Grove City College, joining the Wolverines for both football and track and field. The traditional fall season in 2020 was cancelled because of COVID, so Dunlap commenced his football career with the Wolverines during an abbreviated campaign in the spring of 2021. Playing cornerback, Dunlap appeared in four contests, registering 15 tackles, an interception, and two passes defensed. Additionally, Dunlap had 14 kickoff returns for an average of 23.1 yards. Collectively, Grove City went 2-2.
With Grove City returning to the traditional season in the fall of 2021, Dunlap played in 11 contests, registering 31 tackles, three interceptions, and nine passes defensed. On special teams, he had 24 kick returns for an average of 21.5 yards, and 11 punt returns for an average of 8.0 yards. He was recognized as an All-Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) Second-Team selection at kick returner. Grove City went 8-3 overall, including 6-3 in PAC action. The Wolverines capped their season with a 49-7 win against Utica in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Scotty Whitelaw Bowl.
Last season, Dunlap was limited to just two games because of injury, as he posted four tackles. The Wolverines went 8-3, including 5-3 in PAC play. In the Eastern College Athletic Conference James Lynah Bowl, Grove City bested FDU-Florham 31-14.
Back healthy this season, Dunlap has been a dynamo. The senior has played in 10 games, posting 45 tackles, three interceptions, and seven passes defensed. On special teams, he’s produced 15 kickoff returns for an average of 29.9 yards, and he’s returned seven punts, averaging 15.9 yards, including a touchdown. To this point, the Wolverines have been unblemished, winning all 10 of their conference games. Grove City will open postseason play this weekend, battling Susquehanna in the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday.
In addition to his success on the gridiron, Dunlap is a three-year letterwinner with the Grove City track and field team. He was named the PAC Field MVP at the 2023 conference championships, and was an All-Atlantic Region champion in the decathlon.
Gabe set aside time from his hectic schedule to respond to questions about his return from injury, the pros and cons of playing two sports in college, and the best qualities of his high school coach, John Ruane.
Q: You have earned significant recognition for your play this season. What have been the biggest factors in your success?
A: The biggest factor for my success is the team that I am a part of. On special teams, I may be receiving the recognition, but without everyone blocking up front, I would not be able to succeed. The coaching staff, as well, has put such a great emphasis on the importance of special teams. It is taken just as seriously as offense and defense, and that can be seen by the way the team performs every Saturday.
Q: How have you grown as a player during your time at Grove City?
A: During my time here at Grove City, I have grown as a player by gaining a better understanding of our scheme, as well as understanding what my job is. It is very simple in that we have a positional vision and that is what I live in every day. By only focusing on my 1/11th, I am able to be the best possible player for my team.
Q: You missed most of last season with injury. What were the challenges in returning to form?
A: After missing last season, the main challenge to coming back was being able to reacclimate to the speed of the game; not really the physical aspect, but rather, the reads that you must make during a play.
Q: The Wolverines have played at a high level this season. What are the key components of that?
A: Vision drives everything that we do as a program. It started back in 2016 when Coach DiDonato took over and put our program vision in front of a winless team. That vision has still not changed, and will not change anytime soon. Our vision has helped us focus on what we need to do as a team; it has kept us fueled to continue to reach that vision, and finally it is helping us finish.
Q: What team and individual goals did you establish for this season?
A: As a team, the vision has always been to compete for PAC Championships since Coach DiDonato took over. Individually, it is easy to become overwhelmed with personal goals and accomplishments, but we have a saying, “each of us needs all of us”. This means we all do our job in order to succeed, and by doing our jobs, the personal accomplishments happen to come with.
Q: You have also excelled in track and field at Grove City. What are the biggest benefits and challenges in playing both sports at the college level?
A: Playing two sports in college has been a great experience for me. It has allowed me to continue to do two things I love, as well as be a part of two great teams. I have been able to make so many great relationships with teammates, as well as coaches, that I would not have been able to make without playing multiple sports. One of the biggest challenges is being able to juggle offseason workouts within season sports. My coaches are the only reason that I am able to succeed as a dual sport athlete. If it weren’t for them being so open to athletes competing in multiple sports, it would have been impossible to be a part of two great teams.
Q: What led to your decision to attend Grove City?
A: I chose to attend Grove City for two main reasons. Firstly, I was given the opportunity to compete in two sports I love - football and track and field; secondly, the people who I met during my visits to Grove City College. This was a combination of coaches, as well as players. I had the great experience of meeting not only current players, but also fellow recruits on an overnight visit my senior year of high school.
Q: What is your major, and an ideal future profession?
A: I am currently majoring in management, entrepreneurship, and human resources. I would ultimately like to own my own business down the road.
Q: What have your academic accolades meant to you?
A: Our program has a phrase 4-40-forever. This means that sports will last four years, a career will last 40 years, and your relationship with God will last forever. By being able to succeed in academics, it has allowed for me to not only focus on the four years of athletics, but rather, prepare myself for the next 40 years of my career.
Q: Several of your former teammates at Penn-Trafford also now play at Grove City. How beneficial is it to have so many familiar faces on the team?
A: I was fortunate enough to come into college with one of my closest friends and current captain Cole DeFillippo. Through the years, more and more Penn-Trafford players have been coming to Grove City, and I hope that it continues to be a pipeline for the team.
Q: What was your fondest memory at Penn-Trafford?
A: My fondest memory when playing at Penn-Trafford was the chance to play the Massillon Tigers my senior year. It was an incredible atmosphere and a phenomenal competitor to play against.
Q: What were the best qualities of PT head coach John Ruane?
A: Coach Ruane’s best attribute as a coach is his knowledge of the game and his ability to use the skill sets that his players possess to put the best team on the field possible. This is shown by Penn Trafford’s success ever since he has become head coach.
Q: If you could change one rule about college football, what would it be? Why?
A: If I had to change one rule in college football, it would be to make all ball carriers be downed by contact.
Q: What artist or genre of music gets you ready before a game?
A: I personally listen to country, specifically older country, before competing in either football or track. It is unorthodox, but I find that it helps keep me calm and see things slower when out on the field or track.
Q: What is your favorite holiday? Why?
A: My favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. Just the feeling of summer and the food makes it a great time to hang out with family and friends.