In fact, he’s the lone former Wildcat on an NFL roster as the 2019 season begins tonight in the Windy City, where Chicago plays host to the Green Bay Packers in a game broadcast in prime time on NBC.
The Bears, 12-4 in 2018, are many fan favorites to win the strong NFC North Division this season. The speedy Gabriel is one of the team’s three starting wide receivers and is expected to play a large role in the offense despite his diminutive (5 foot 7 inches) height in what is increasingly a big-man’s game.
Gabriel begins his sixth season overall and second since joining the Bears last year. He was an undrafted free agent following a standout career at ACU, and has played two years each for Cleveland and Atlanta – helping the Falcons to Super Bowl LI in January 2017.
He started 11 of 16 games for Chicago in 2018, catching a career-high 67 passes for 688 yards (a 10.3 yards-per-catch average) and two touchdowns. He also had nine carries for 61 yards. Gabriel had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games (104 yards against Tampa Bay and 110 yards against Miami) during the regular season and caught four passes for 37 yards in an NFC Wild Card playoff game against Philadelphia.
“I’m not saying I’m a vocal leader and I’m gonna give you this amazing Ray Lewis rah-rah speech, but at the same time, it’s doing it every play, going out there every play and grinding,” Gabriel said during a recent preseason press conference in Chicago. “If those guys see me grinding, working hard every play, they have no choice but to do the same thing.
Gabriel said he is beginning to relish his role as a player teammates can emulate on the Bears.
“Just becoming more selfless, being that guy that who’s up early and leaves late and just helping the guys and bringing the guys up,” he said. “I have to be that person just because of the experience. I’ve been to a Super Bowl. And I know what that type of team looks like.”
Gabriel’s name is found throughout the ACU record book, including: second in career receiving yards (3,027), career catches (215) and tied for second in career receiving TDs (27); fifth in all-purpose yards (3,880 yards); and tied for 10th – with another former Chicago Bears standout receiver, Johnny Knox – in career scoring (186 points).
His image is among 19 other former ACU football greats displayed on large murals on the exterior of Wildcat Stadium.
Another former Wildcat, veteran running back Charcandrick West (’15), was cut Aug. 31 from the Baltimore Colts roster. A free agent, he played the last five seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.