MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

December 24, 2012

2012 All-Phoenix Prep Football Team: Jolly-good guys: Fort Gibson’s impact running back leads this year’s group of honorees

— Jake Gandara remembers the day he went crying to his mom — the day that would ultimately define him as a football player.

“My cousins live next to me and my next-door neighbors were about 6 years older than me. We all went to church together and school together and we played ball together in my big rectangular back yard which was great for football,” he said.

“Me being the youngest and the smallest, I had to learn to run side to side and juke people, you know, work on being quick-footed. I got pretty good at it playing with these guys every day since first grade.”

But it took awhile, and some lumps and bumps, to get there. As he tells it, when he was 6 and just getting used to it, one of those neighbors, Paul Kent, tackled him hard.

“It busted my front teeth out. I went crying to my mom (Teresa Gandara) and she stopped the bleeding and all but as soon as she did she told me, ‘you get back out there and tough it up and prove to those boys you can play with them.’” he said. “From that point, I had a chip on my shoulder. Not only did I need to juke, but I needed to be tough.”

Gandara’s chip was there this year as he ran for 2,234 yards and 30 touchdowns. He helped the Fort Gibson Tigers to their best season since the 1999 Class 4A state finals year as they fell to eventual state finalist Anadarko in the quarterfinal round. His performance earned him the vote as the Most Valuable Player on the All-Phoenix Football Team, selected by members of the Phoenix staff and support staff as well as area coaches.

Juke, he still did. He had a season-high 397-yard game against Sallisaw in week 10, setting a school record in the process. He also had four 200-plus yard outings and five 100 or more. He missed 100 by less than 10 yards in the first two games of the season.

Gandara retained that toughness as well, playing through the pain of two ligament tears on one ankle and a bone contusion on the heel — suffered not on the football field, but playing basketball with those friends.

“I thought it was just a sprain when I did it, then I finished summer pride and it was really hurting me,” he said. “I rested it in two scrimmages then we taped it, braced it, then about the Catoosa game (in week three) it was still hurting.”

It was then that a Tulsa area doctor who has experience working with college and professional athletes made the diagnosis.  

One ankle ligament, Gandara said, was “hanging by a string.” Any wrong move would cause it to snap. Surgery was recommended, then or at the end of the season.

Either way it brought on a bout with depression. A momentary one.

“I didn’t want to have surgery at all,” he said. “I came to the conclusion this was for the family and I didn’t think God was going to give up on it. I rehabbed every day during the season and my family and I prayed a lot.”

He kept wearing the tape and brace. Toward the end of the season, the pain disappeared. And so would the need for surgery.

Seeing another doctor in Oklahoma City at the end of the season, he went through a full battery of tests. No problems could be detected. The ligament had healed.

“Over time it got stronger with the rehab but I truly believe it was a God thing,” said the son of the pastor at First Baptist Church of Fort Gibson, Danny Gandara.

James Singleton, the Fort Gibson coach, sure felt the anointing.

“Kids like him, the kids that can impact a game like he does, don’t come along often,” he said. “We’re down 21-0 in that game to Sallisaw and he touches the ball three times and it’s tied up.

“His body awareness, his vision and the way he could break tackles are things that as a coach you’d like to say ‘yeah, we coached that into him’ but that isn’t the case here. Being his coach, I got to admit there were times that I’d just step out of that and just take it all in watching him perform.”

Gandara last week gave his verbal commitment to play next season at Central Oklahoma.

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