BURNABY — A framed photo sits on the dresser drawer of his room in the Burquitlam rental he shares with six other housemates, and for Simon Fraser sophomore safety Gideone Kremler, all it takes is a simple daily glance back at his 12-year-old self to understand — despite all of the pain and disappointment — precisely why it is that he continues to both play and to love the sport of football.
On Saturday, as Simon Fraser not only opens its 2022 NCAA Lone Star Conference season at home, but perhaps more significantly makes its program debut as the freshly-minted Red Leafs (1 p.m., Terry Fox Field at SFU Stadium vs. Central Washington), it will be the now-21-year-old Kremler, battle scars and all, getting his best opportunity yet to continue gaining momentum along what has been at times, a crooked, injury-stamped road.
From a starring role at Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Secondary, the Victoria native has spent the past three seasons moving through both the pandemic and a positional switch from quarterback to claim a spot within the heart of the Red Leafs’ defensive secondary.
Factor in the mental toll which has accompanied his extensive injury rehabilitation, and the perspective he gleans daily from that childhood photo, now almost a decade in his rearview mirror, can not be understated.
“Looking at that photo reminds me of the two surgeries I’ve had,” begins the 6-foot, 180 pound Kremler of the multiple torn ACLs his right knee has suffered, both early in his Grade 10 (2016) season, and in the spring before his Grade 12season (2018).
“It reminds me that things can start to waver,” he continued of learning to accept the realties of the physical toll so inherent within his sport. “Certainties and confidences that were such a big part of the athlete you had been for so long… they not so much fade, but they start to take on new looks. You start to understand that you are not Superman… that you are not invincible, and that injuries will happen. That was a big learning period for me.”
And so from the absolute high of one of the greatest accomplishments in the entire history of B.C. high school sports, when he led Mt. Douglas to the B.C. Subway Bowl senior AAA title as a mere Grade 9 quarterback, Kremler has since worked through those two torn ACLs, ultimately accepting a switch from offence to defence and doing it with the kind of joyous grace that the football gods simply cannot ignore.
“He stands for heart,” enthused Red Leafs’ head coach Mike Rigell, who back in 2019 as an assistant coach, was part of the staff which recruited Kremler to SFU following a Grade 12 campaign in which he quarterbacked Mt. Douglas to another B.C. AAA title, this time by playing his entire senior season on what was a second torn ACL.
“He stands for the game because it’s easy to quit when you are going through those types of injuries,” continued Rigell of Kremler who had to first get fully healthy at SFU over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, before he was eventually able to find his way to the defensive side of the ball. “But at the end of the day, he’s been committed. He’s been a symbol of all of that for us.”
A HOUSE OF BROTHERS, FRIENDS BUILT ON FOOTBALL
For Gideone Kremler, one of the best parts of Saturday’s opening day will be the fact that all six of his housemates will be cheering him on from the stands at SFU Stadium.
On the surface that seems like nothing too out of the ordinary, yet within this story of perseverance, it’s a sidebar tale with a twist: All seven have played football for Simon Fraser, yet this season, Gideone is the household’s last active player.
Older brother Justice Kremler, a linebacker, played through his four years of eligibility last season.
“The other five guys, in the last two years, found jobs, found girlfriends, found out that football wasn’t their favourite thing in the world,” continued Kremler of a group that includes his twin brother and defensive back Zairech Kremler and his cousin and wide receiver Joe Lucas, both from Mt. Douglas. The others are wide receivers Ryan Naylor (Tacoma, Wash.) and Ethan Flynn (Portland, Ore.), and tight end Ethan Janto (San Jose, Cal.).
“They had some discoveries they weren’t expecting but came about, and they are all adults, so you make you own decisions,” he added. “It’s exciting because they all love football, and I’ve got them in my corner.”
THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE STILL WIDE
Over a high school career at Mt. Douglas under head coach Mark Townsend, Gideone Kremler’s aforementioned bookend Subway Bowl B.C. high school titles cemented his place in the provincial history books.
And while he was unable to challenge for the quarterback job at SFU while rehabilitating from his extensive right knee trauma, the traits he would imbed in his signal-calling DNA throughout high school have served him well in a switch to the defensive secondary at the NCAA level.
So what has he learned over the course of a transition in which he has flipped from one side of the schematic’s centrefield view to that of the other?
“It’s definitely been all-encompassing,” explains Kremler. “The first read is always run or pass… especially at a strong safety position where you get that hybrid (run-pass) possibility. So being able to look at an O-line in their first .5 seconds of the snap and gain understanding of what they are trying to do allows me to see the field a little clearer. I see it a little slower, and I am more able to take my time.
“Timing is the other thing,” Kremler continues, the tempo of his voice eventually becoming metronomic as he strives to make his point. “I watch a receiver run his route and I know if I was the quarterback on the other end, that I would most likely want to get him the ball… right… about… now. And so kind of seeing that as the play develops allows me to ideally get out of my breaks a little faster and maybe jump a few footballs.”
Kremler was able to observe a very good strong safety last season in former STM Knights’ product Kolby Buljevic, whose 66 total tackles were second on the team to its runaway leader, linebacker Griffin Barrett.
Both have since departed, but Kremler has found a like-minded running mate at the back end of the defence in former Handsworth Royals’ product Evan Currie, a rangy 6-foot-3 junior who spent time at the quarterback position during his high school days in North Vancouver.
“I like to think that we both learned offences quite well,” begins Kremler of the pair. “Quite often the coaches will say ‘If (the opposition quarterback) wants to throw a pass here, Gid and Evan, where do you think they want to throw it?’ Because they know we’ve made those throws before.”
The pair joins fellow teammates like senior J.P. Verdugo, junior Ryan Barthelson and sophomore Kyle Huish among those listed on the team’s depth chart at safety this past week.
For Kremler’s part, having missed live game reps for two straight seasons following a 2019 redshirt and the 2020 COVID-cancelled campaign, last season served as a true re-awakening as to the importance the game game plays in his life.
“Last year it was super fun to get the chance to play special teams, which was something I hadn’t done since the fourth- or fifth-grade,” said Kremler, who dressed for all eight games and led that unit in tackles, while also supplying 16 total tackles as a reserve linebacker.
Come Saturday, against a 1-1 Central Washington team whose lone loss was a more-than-respectable 36-20 road setback in Michigan against Div. 2’s No. 1-ranked Ferris State back on Sept. 1, Kremler will have the chance to test his game against the best.
And head coach Rigell knows that Kremler, with his vast and varied skill-set, is one of those players who will be able to adapt to the game’s flow and its ever-changing character.
“He is a Swiss army knife,” begins Rigell of Kremler, who also serves as the team’s holder. “He’s overcome every challenge that has come his way, and my thought process when we moved him over (to defence) is that we can make him a quarterback of the defence.”
“…REPRESENTING SOMETHING THAT IS MORE THAN JUST THE GAME”
Coming off a 1-7 season in 2021 and set to kick off yet another challenging campaign Saturday, it’s certainly not news to anyone that Simon Fraser football is a win-starved group.
Ask Kremler for his motivation to stay, and the same player who barely, if ever, tasted defeat in high school, is quick to answer.
“There is something about representing something that is about more than just the game,” he begins. “There were a lot of other options that I had, and still have, but they don’t entice me in the same way. As a Mount Doug alum, I have experienced a great amount of success all through high school and even before, and of course I am a competitor and I want to win.
“But I think that fighting for that win is one of the reasons it’s enticing to stay around here.”
Another is the academic path he’s discovered as a communications major with a minor in educational psychology.
“Learning how to learn myself, learning how to help other people learn, learning how to coach, and learning how to educate is something that that just entices me,” begins Kremler, who is easily able to explain the genesis of his wiring.
“A part of this comes from my and Zairech’s relationship,” he says of his twin brother. “As soon as one of us didn’t fully get something, pretty quickly the other one would understand that, take it back a few steps and help the other one understand. I grew up as a twin with that sense of ‘Why should I have luxury of knowing more when I feel I am adept at explaining, or at coaching or educating?’”
If he can sandwich a professional football career in-between his SFU experience and what looks to potentially be a coaching or teaching career, the journey would look to have come truly full circle.
All of that seems fitting for a student-athlete whose name translates as ‘Great Warrior’.
Straight off the internet, the story goes like this “Translated as “hewer” or “feller,” Gideon’s most popular meaning is “one who cuts down.”
With all of that in mind, it almost seems like he was born to be a strong safety.
But for now, it’s all about Saturday, about opening a new season with his teammates, and of course, in front of his six loyal housemates.
“People always talk about how your friends for life are the ones you meet in university,” Kremler explains. “They are the ones that will be at your wedding, and things like that. That house of friends, those are guys I have had over to my own home and my mom has cooked them all Thanksgiving dinner, and we’ll continue to do that. They are all talking about Saturday and how they will all be there, so it’s nice to have a little bit of family-away-from-family that is rooting for you.”
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