Catching Up With Garrett Gabriel

Former Rainbows quarterback Garrett Gabriel always reminds me his first love was basketball, but when it came to naming his sons, you can be assured he had a passion for football.

“I named my first son Garrison after (Cardinals/49ers) running back Garrison Hearst, and my second son Dillon after (Bengals running back) Corey Dillon,” he says. “Then, my wife (Dori) got to name our third son; she came up with Roman for Roman Gabriel. She said she thought he was a handsome guy.”


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Courtesy UH Athletics

The irony for Gabriel was that he had been kidded for years about his resemblance to the style of the former Rams quarterback. “Paul Johnson (Hawaii’s former offensive coordinator and now head coach at Georgia Tech) made me wear No. 18, Roman Gabriel’s number, because of that. He always teased me about it,” Gabriel recalls.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a quarter of a century since Hawaii’s No. 18 commanded the turf at Aloha Stadium, guiding the ‘Bows to two memorable upsets over archrival BYU in 1989 and 1990, as well as a bowl game in 1989.

Gabriel is now 45 years old and works as a behavioral health counselor for the DOE. His sons are growing up and each is a ballplayer in his own right. Garrison is a junior in high school and a rising volleyball star at his dad’s alma mater Maryknoll; Dillon is a seventh-grader and like his dad, a quarterback, but he also plays basketball and baseball and attends Punahou, where his Uncle Daryl was a star; and young Roman is a first-grader at Holy Family. “Roman’s playing baseball and basketball now, and for some reason has a love affair for the Charlotte Bobcats – don’t ask me why,” Gabriel says, laughing.

This past year has been an eventful one for the Gabriel family, who make their home in Mililani. Garrett served as honorary captain of the UH football team during the season, but he also had a health scare.

“I had lost a lot of weight, about 50-55 pounds,” he says, “and that turned out to be a good thing because I had a little heart issue. I felt some tingling up my arm, and so my wife said I should go see the cardiologist. It turned out there was some blockage in the arteries, and we got it taken care of really quickly. It was a blessing I had lost that weight because, if not, it could have been deadly.”

If that weren’t enough, Gabriel also had back surgery recently. “I’m recovering fine, but my son tells me he has to throw the ball to a place where I don’t have to run,” he says, laughing. “I couldn’t run 10 or 20 yards if they paid me.”

Gabriel says he expects to be 100 percent in no time. He’s always been very active – an outstanding basketball player in his youth, as well as an adult. “Basketball is my first love,” he tells me. “Playing for Coach (Tony) Sellitto, he made me love the sport.”

The health scares also made him realize what’s important: taking care of himself. His wife and sons mean everything to him. “Right now, watching and enjoying the boys grow is No. 1,” he says.

In his job, he’s watching other people’s sons and daughters grow, too.

“I work in school-based behavioral health,” he says. “We work with challenging diagnoses, like depression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and so on. I was a coach for awhile, but life led me to this. It’s my calling. I’m helping younger kids get on with their lives.”

And right now, Garrett Gabriel is getting on in a healthy way with his own life. For his sons and his entire family, he plans to be around for a long time.