BILLINGS — Gabe Sulser and his family have a group text message where they can communicate regularly.
When the Billings Senior football standout was awarded with the Gatorade Montana Football Player of the Year on Monday, he received a text from his older sister, Morgan, saying, "Welcome to the club." Morgan was named the girls Gatorade track athlete of the year in 2013.
That club consists of Gabe and Morgan. So of course they tease their oldest sibling, Ben, about it.
"I just got off the phone with Ben and he's like, 'Ah shoot. I guess I'm not in that club, but it's whatever,'" Sulser said over the phone Monday with a laugh. "He was laughing. I always give him crap, and he gives me crap, so it was pretty funny."
Sulser is the second consecutive Senior Bronc to be named Gatorade Player of the Year for football. Former Senior quarterback and current Montana Grizzly Nate Dick was awarded with it last year, the first ever for the school.
"It's a really cool deal. It's a big honor for sure," Sulser said. "At the same time it says a lot about our team too. No one ever wins this award without being on a successful team. For us to have two winners in the past two years from our school says a lot about our program and the guys we've had and the teams we've had."
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character on and off the field, distinguishes Sulser as Montana’s best high school football player. He is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior wide receiver, who has verbally committed to play football at Montana, caught 85 passes for 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season, leading the Broncs to a 13-0 record and the Class AA state championship. Sulser also rushed for 997 yards and 16 touchdowns on 106 carries. A four-time all-state selection, he was named the Class AA Offensive MVP this season. Sulser also was an integral part of Senior's 2016 state championship and their state runner-up 2015 team.
“Gabe Sulser is the biggest offensive difference-maker in AA football,” said Bozeman coach Levi Wesche in a press release. “When they need a big play, they give him the ball. He’s got great speed, but he breaks a lot of tackles as well. He does it from the backfield, he does it as a slot receiver, he runs the wildcat. They play him everywhere on the field, and he’s effective everywhere.”
Behind Sulser and more, the Broncs have won 26 straight games and two straight Class AA state football championships.
"It's a really fun way this season could have ended," Sulser said about the award. "You don't really set out and make this a goal to win this deal. I've always thought about it, don't get me wrong, and that it would be cool to win, but it's an extra incentive to a really fun season."
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Last year when Dick won the award, Sulser reached out to congratulate him. Dick thanked Sulser but told him he would win it next year.
Turns out he was right.
Sulser was more skeptical leading up to Monday. He'd expected quarterback and linebacker Nolan Askelson would win it.
"I honestly thought that, given his resume, he deserved it just as much as me," Sulser said. "Honestly I was kind of expecting him to win it just because of the year he had and how much he contributed on both sides of the ball. It does say a lot about the guys we have on our team and the coaches."
A devoted member of his church community, Sulser has volunteered locally on behalf of an elementary school literacy initiative. He also has maintained a 3.81 grade point average.
Sulser was named all-state at receiver and corner this season but also honorable mention as a kickoff returner and punter. When asked if being honorable mention at punter was his greatest high school achievement, Sulser laughed and responded, "Oh yeah, absolutely. I didn't even expect that, I just thought, 'Oh wow, that's kind of funny.' It kind of caught me off guard."
Sulser joins recent Gatorade Montana Football Players of the Year Dick (2016-17, Senior), Balue Chapman (2015-16, Bozeman), Andrew Grinde (2014-15, Great Falls CMR), Will Dissly (2013-14, Bozeman), Gunnar Brekke (2012-13, Helena Capital), Caleb Kidder (2011–12, Capital), Tanner Roderick (2010-11, Bozeman), and Matt Miller (2009-10, Capital) among the state’s list of former award winners.
"It's been awesome. Going into it this year, I knew it wasn't going to be as easy to win another state championship," Sulser said. "To be honest, I knew we could win it, but I didn't know if we could go undefeated. That was pretty cool. This semester has gone about as good as it can be. I hope I can use the winter to rest up a little bit then get to training for college ball and track."
As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Sulser will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program. Every Gatorade Player of the Year state winner receives a $1,000 grant to donate and will have the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by writing a brief essay explaining why their selected organization deserves additional support.
As for Sulser, the award caps a prestigious four-year high school football career for the books.
"It's been the best four years of my life and an unforgettable experience for sure," he said.