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The Center of Attention

September 3, 1998

by Brian Hennessy

From the heartland of America to the middle of the Clemson offensive line, Jason Gamble will certainly be the center of attention in 1998.

Gamble, a native of Wichita, KS, will anchor a senior dominated offensive line at center for the Tigers this season. Among some of the 6-3, 300 pound center’s impressive credentials include being named the Clemson Lifter-of-the-Year in 1997 and finishing first in “Psycho Circus,” a grueling workout competition al the “World’s Strongest Man” competition.

“In Psycho Circus, we were matched up with a teammate so that all teams were equal,” recalls Gamble. “We did reps of bench, clean, squat, and press as many times as possible in the span of 90 seconds. We also had to see how long we could hang from a bar. So you can see how it’s just like the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ competition. We wanted to add a little fun to the whole competition after all the hard work we put in.”

Gamble showed he’s one of Clemson’s strongest men by setting two all-time Tiger weightlifting records in the spring competition. His 527 pound bench press and 402 pound clean have never been lifted before by a Clemson gridder.

“Jason gave outstanding effort in a very tough competition,” states Clemson Strength Coach Joey Batson. “He was intense throughout, took it very seriously, and took care of business. In all the years that we’ve held this competition, he is the first ‘big’ man to win the event, because it takes body weight into account.”

Gamble attended Derby High School in Derby, Kansas, where he lettered twice in football and three times in wrestling. He attended Hutchinson Community College in Kansas for two seasons. He was a junior college All-America offensive tackle and the Jayhawk Conference Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year in an offense that threw 70 to 80 percent of the time. What started off at Hutchinson as “just another chance to play some more football” turned into a potential professional career when several division I schools came calling.

Gamble credits Clemson Assistant Coach John Latina for his decision to wear the orange and white. “Coach Latina recruited me to come to Clemson. I remember Coach (Latina) when he coached at Kansas State. He is known around Kansas as the man who helped build the Kansas State program. Other coaches I talked with said he was one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation.”

He also remembers a time back when he was a six-year old kid in Wichita, then a Nebraska fan. He watched in agony as his Cornhuskers were defeated 22-15 by Clemson in the 1982 Orange Bowl. But he eventually took a liking to the Tigers, even enough to cheer for Clemson in the Tigers’ 13-6 win over nearby Oklahoma in the 1988 Citrus Bowl.

His first season at Clemson saw the undersized lineman red-shirt. Although he was recruited to play center, he had never played the position. “It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “There were things I had to work on, like stepping and snapping at the same time. Plus, I had to learn to move side to side. At tackle, I was used to just going to the left. At center, I have to go both ways. I was a little slow off the snap at first, and being the center, you should be the first one off the ball. I took time to get that down.”

“Even though I was being red-shirted, I still dressed out for every game. In the Wake Forest game, Jamie Trimble and Ed Altman, both centers, were injured and could not play. I was afraid I was going to play that game and lose my red-shirt year.”

Luckily, Gamble was not called upon and the Tigers have Gamble front and center in ’98.

Gamble was successful making the adjustment to the starting center position in ’97. He started all 12 games and was in on 675 snaps, sixth most on the team. He was a key reason Clemson set numerous school records in passing and finished second in the ACC in rushing.

Gamble has set his sights high entering the ’98 season. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I’m mean when I put a helmet on,” the soft-spoken center states. “I get an attitude, like, ‘You are wearing the wrong color.’ I think that’s what it takes to be successful.”

An NFL scouting service recently picked the top seniors nationally position by position. You guessed it, Gamble was the player listed at center. “All that means is that I caught the eye of someone,” states Gamble. “I still have to fulfill those expectations. Being honored in that way will force me to step it up and play the best I can possibly play.”

As far as playing in the NFL…”I’ll play for anyone; I don’t care who,” he said. “I don’t care what round, either. I just want the opportunity to play at that level.”

Gamble credits his growth as a person to his parents, Mariann and Steve. “They always supported the decisions I made. It was tough for them being so far away from Clemson, but they did not want me to go some place that I didn’t want to be.”

As far as career goals after his days at Clemson are over, Gamble is optimistic but realizes a professional football career can come and go. “If the opportunity to play in the NFL arises, I would love to pursue it. The love for the game is there and it hasn’t become old yet. I plan to graduate in May with a speech and communication degree. So I can use what I’ve learned down the road when I need it.”

If football isn’t in Gamble’s future, he sees himself back where he came from, the midwest. “I’m a city boy. I will definitely find my way back home.”

“I love to be around people. I also would like to be a coach, maybe not as an on-the-field coach, but a strength coach. I think that my personality is directed towards being a good motivation.”

His outgoing personality has also garnered attention from an unlikely source. When Clemson played Auburn in the Peach Bowl, a die hard Auburn fan named Jason Matheson noticed Gamble’s tireless work ethic. Matheson, who designs sportspages on the internet, took a liking to Gamble and what he meant to the Clemson team. Although they did not meet in Atlanta, they spoke on the telephone and collectively thought of a way to showcase Gamble’s talents. So Matheson created a sportspage dedicated to Gamble and the center’s position. In it, Matheson features an in-depth look at Gamble and his play week-by-week.

Gamble truly is at the center of it all.