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Dillon Gabriel: ‘I’m really a homebody, so this is nothing super new to me’

The Knights’ sophomore quarterback talked Friday about how he’s staying sharp with football on hold, what he’s doing at home in Hawaii to pass the time, and his favorite moment from his 2019 freshman season.

UCF Knights Dillon Gabriel football
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) is preparing for the day when he can lead the Knights out of the tunnel once again.
Photo: Derek Warden

Another day, another Zoom meeting for UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

It started at 9 a.m. local time in Hawaii, but that’s business as usual for Gabriel. He enjoys his regularly scheduled morning meetings with his coaches and teammates.

“It gets my day going,” he said Friday while on a Zoom call with Orlando media. “... Shoot, I’m able to have meetings, so that’s the bright side of it.”

He would certainly prefer to hold these meetings in person, but it’s not like speaking to someone face-to-face through a computer screen is a sea change in football communication. He and his coaches can still cover the same topics, watch the same film.

“We talk about the same stuff. It’s just that it’s virtual,” he said. “I guess you could say it’s tough for me if my Internet lags out or that type of the deal.”

Just three minutes later, while answering a question about how he can make up for time lost during UCF’s shortened spring practice season, Gabriel’s internet sputtered and ultimately vanished. His screen went dark.

After about 30 seconds, he was able to rejoin.

“Sorry about that,” he said as his video came back to life. “Did I lag out? Sorry.”

Gabriel and his family have been safe and healthy at home in Hawaii. If some spotty Wi-Fi is the most difficult part of Gabriel’s life right now, he is doing well.

He spent 15 minutes Friday covering topics spanning from what he is doing to stay primed for the next football season, his thoughts on Gabriel Davis’ potential at the NFL level and what it would feel like to play a game without fans inside Spectrum Stadium.

This transcript has been edited.

Q: WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE BEING BACK HOME IN HAWAII? HOPEFULLY EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY IS SAFE DURING THIS TIME AS WELL.

Dillon Gabriel: “Luckily, I thank God, man. Everyone has been good here, safe. I’m fortunate enough to have a weight room in my garage I’ve been working out in. And then as well being able to get to a park to throw, run, et cetera. From that side, I’m fortunate enough to be able to do all that, so I’m able to stay in shape and be able to do what I’ve got to do.

Q: WHAT HAS A TYPICAL DAY BEEN LIKE FOR YOU THESE PAST FEW WEEKS?

DG: “Monday through Friday, I’ve been waking up around 8 or 9. Then we’ll have meetings for however long Zoom lets us, which is about 40 minutes. After that, obviously, cleaning my room, get ready and then I’ll go work out with my dad, whether it’s lifting and then we try to run, throw, whatever we can do. During this time, it’s good to have structure, so I try to have some structure in my life. For the most part, I’ve got all the tools to be able to do so. It’s been good.

Q: GIVEN THE AMOUNT OF SPRING CAMP THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO GO THROUGH, HOW WAS THAT HELPFUL TO YOU, AND HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO GET READY FOR THE START OF NEXT SEASON?

DG: “Fortunately enough, we were able to get four practices in. That’s more than a lot of other teams, so I’m fortunate for that. Practices, I’d love to get that 15 in, personally. Maybe in the summer before our fall camp, I think that would be beneficial. I guess maybe six weeks on, take a break and then do six weeks again. That’s what I think would be ideal just so that you can obviously get your body in shape. Not lifting shape, but football shape. I think that would be ideal.

Q: HOW IS THE TEAM ADJUSTING TO HOLDING MEETINGS THROUGH ZOOM? CAN YOU YOU SPEAK TO, FROM A CONTENT STANDPOINT, HOW THINGS HAVE THINGS HAVE BEEN ADJUSTED, AND HOW YOU’VE HAD TO ADJUST TO IT?

DG: “To be quite honest, it’s not a huge learning curve. It’s the same kind of meetings. ... But for the most part, everyone has been in the meetings. It’s been easy to set the time. It’s been easy to watch film and still get the same things done. It’s different, but at the same time, we’re learning as everyone else is. I feel like we’ve got a good plan for it.”

Q: WITH THE NFL DRAFT COMING UP, JUST HOW SPECIAL IS GABRIEL DAVIS AND WHAT IS HE GOING TO BRING TO THE TABLE FOR AN NFL TEAM?

DG: “I think Gabe is a next-level guy, obviously. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. He just keeps going. For me, being able to see him literally right by me every day, how hard he works, there’s nothing that can deny that. I think whoever gets him, you’re going to get a player that’ll play for a while just because of how hard he works, how well he takes care of his body, how much he’s willing to learn. Even though he was the best, he was still learning. I think that speaks a lot.

“Obviously, he’s going to be a rookie now; he’s going to have to learn, but he’s open to everything. That’s why I think he’s got a long-time career coming for him.”

Q: HOW DO YOU MAKE UP FOR THE TIME LOST DURING SPRING PRACTICE AND STAY IN SYNC WITH YOUR TEAMMATES?

DG: “You really can’t do much. You’re just playing everything by ear ... Individually, obviously, we’re getting ourselves better and being able to take the next step for our individuals. I think once we’re able to get back up [to Orlando], it’ll be just fine.”

Q: HOW OFTEN DO YOU STAY IN CONTACT AND SOCIALIZE WITH YOUR TEAMMATES?

DG: “I honestly talk to one guy a day at least. With this whole FaceTime thing, what we’re able to do with our phones, I’m able to talk to everyone whenever I can. It’s been good for that.”

Q: WHEN YOU’RE NOT LIFTING WEIGHTS OR DOING FOOTBALL STUFF, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO PASS THE TIME OTHERWISE?

DG: “I’ve really been staying outside in terms of my backyard. There’s a forest right by my house; we kind of go and explore, me and my buddy. I’ve just been doing that. Really, just been spending a lot of quality family time. That’s the main thing that I’ve been doing.”

Q: I’M SURE YOU WANT TO BE BACK ON CAMPUS WITH YOUR TEAMMATES AND START THINKING ABOUT THE UPCOMING SEASON. WITH ALL OF THE UNCERTAINTY, DO YOU EVER FEEL A LITTLE FRUSTRATED WITH WHAT’S GOING ON RIGHT NOW?

DG: “Yeah. I was a little frustrated when the news broke that we had to go home and all that, just because I felt like we had such a great start, our first four days. Personally, I felt like we were on another level. Not only communicating, but competing-wise.

“The defense was playing at a high level. The offense, we were being able to do things that we’re not usually used to doing. From that standpoint, I was super excited about the potential that we could have reached.

“At a certain point, there’s stuff we can’t control, and we can’t control this one. I still have a lot of belief in our guys because we’re so experienced and a lot of guys played a lot of football. Meetings and us working ourselves out will have to do until we can get back together.”

Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING IN SHAPE AND BEING IN FOOTBALL-READY SHAPE?

DG: “I think when you’re in shape, you’re obviously lifting a lot of weight, you’re running, you’re not getting tired. But football shape, can you withstand a drive? Going the full field, being able to throw 50, 60 balls a day, it’s just different. When you’re playing the game, you’re going to take hits; guys got to get used to hitting somebody. It’s just different with the pads on and all that.”

Q: AS YOU LOOK BACK ON YOUR FRESHMAN SEASON, DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE GAME IN 2019 OR A FAVORITE MOMENT IN YOUR FIRST YEAR AT UCF?

DG: “Of course. I think my favorite moment was definitely running out for my first game in the Bounce House. I can’t really put those type of feelings to words just because it was so surreal. It was something you dream of. Obviously, having your dreams come true, it’s different. That was definitely one of the best moments for me.”

Q: A LOT OF COLLEGES ARE SAYING THEY DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOOTBALL UNLESS CAMPUS IS OPEN AND STUDENTS ARE BACK. FOR YOU PERSONALLY, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO FEEL COMFORTABLE ABOUT PLAYING?

DG: “As long as we get back, football-team wise. ... I love the game of football. I think it should be ideal if we get a little more practice before fall camp. I think that would be good as well. But for the most part, I’ll just be grateful to play this season.”

Q: HAVE YOU SEEN THE FIRST-HAND IMPACT OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN HAWAII?

DG: I’m really not used to seeing people wearing masks all the time. And then as well seeing so many people go on walks; I had never seen that many people going on walks. It’s weird, it’s different, it’s something we’re not used to, but I guess it may be the new normal, wearing masks and wearing gloves. We’re going to have a lot more people that are going to be worried about being clean and obviously being sanitary in our world today.”

Q: WHEN FOOTBALL DOES COME BACK, IT MAY RETURN WITH LIMITED OR NO FANS IN THE STANDS. CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO PLAY IN THAT SORT OF ATMOSPHERE?

DG: “It’ll probably be different, just because we’re so used to obviously playing in front of a bunch of fans. I think it would be just like a scrimmage, really. Like how we have our scrimmages in the Bounce House during fall camp. I think that’s how it would be. Just football, but at the same time, a little weird just because the whole atmosphere, it makes the game more fun.”

Q: HOW MUCH DO YOU FEEL FOR THE SPRING-SPORT ATHLETES WHO HAD THEIR SEASONS CUT SHORT?

DG: “I feel bad just because it is a little heart-wrenching that your season — obviously, the seniors, I feel bad for a lot because that was their season to go get themselves drafted or whatever it may be. Obviously, I feel bad because I know if it was my senior season, I’d feel some type of way.”

Q: COACH JOSH HEUPEL SAYS “CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.” WHAT CAN YOU CONTROL?

DG: “I can control how hard I work every day, whether it’s in the weight room or at the park. Running, getting myself in shape. And then we’re on our phones a lot, so instead of being on the phone, I can be watching a lot of film. I try to control a lot from that standpoint. At the same time I’m really a homebody, so this is nothing super new to me. I love being home. It’s good being able to spend some family time.”

Q: ARE YOU SOMEONE WHO WATCHES A LOT OF NETFLIX OR ARE YOU A VIDEO GAME GUY? WHAT’S SOME OF THE FUN STUFF THAT YOU’RE DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?

DG: “I’m going to be honest: I’m not a huge Netflix guy. I’m very impatient, so if I watch one (episode), I’ve either got to watch all or none. At that point, I just don’t watch them.

“Video games, I’m really not that good at them. I try, but if I’m winning I get frustrated, so I put it down and go outside. I’ve been actually in the backyard a lot. I’ve got some tortoises. I’ve been planting some plants and just getting some things done in that sense for them. And then I’ve been in the forest a lot, kind of doing my hiking with my buddy, my neighbor.”

Q: ON CAMPUS, YOU HAVE A MEAL PLAN AND A DIETITIAN HELPING THE PLAYERS EAT HEALTHY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE STILL EATING HEALTHY WHILE AT HOME?

DG: “My brother — we joke about it — he’s my nutritionist at the time. He’s been really cooking for me. He usually does that in Orlando when he’s there. But now, he told me, ‘Man, you’ve got to shape up. You’ve got to continue to eat right.’ I actually got breakfast from him this morning. Monday through Friday, he’s cooking for me. He said Saturday and Sunday, I can eat a little bit of rice or I can eat a little bit of local food. But not too much.”