Leo Gabrek breaks from his family’s Lyons soccer tradition

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The Gabreks have a long tradition at Lyons and Leo Gabrek — the youngest of four brothers — is continuing that.

Ben (24), Sam (23) and Peter (21) Gabrek all were either forwards or center-mids for the Lions and Leo was a center-mid last year. But when it became apparent that Lyons needed to shore up its defense, Leo Gabrek didn’t hesitate to change positions when approached by head coach Paul Labatto.

“Coach asked me if I would be interested in playing defense and I was going to do whatever the team needed me to do,” the senior said. “That was an area where we needed me the most. Of course everyone loves scoring goals but defense has grown on me. I like it now and I like having the responsibility. I trust our offense; they’re doing an amazing job right now.”

Classmate Patrick Duncan is aware of Gabrek’s background, which is why Duncan wasn’t surprised his teammate was willing to change positions.

“He comes from a great family and he’s able to do just about everything out there,” Duncan said. “All his brothers were tough kids who could do things out there most kids couldn’t. It’s a luxury having a player who can go forward and can still be so solid in the back.”

It was his brothers who made Leo Gabrek the player he is today.

“Every day after school there would be a game to go to watch at the park,” Gabrek said. “It was a three block walk to watch my brothers’ game and it was something I loved doing.”

Once school let out, he got to try out the moves he picked up.

“During the summers was always my chance to play with them,” Gabrek said. “They’d go down to the roller-skating rink and they’d play rink soccer. It was 4-on-4 and very fast paced. Lots of people would rotate in and I was invited every time Peter went. I wasn’t too much below their level.”

His brothers wound up teaching Leo Gabrek everything he knew.

“My brothers would do something in a game and I would see it and want to recreate that move so I could be just as good as my three older brothers were,” he said. “I was able to copy the things they did well and learn from their mistakes.”

Now, as a defender, Gabrek is playing in a whole new world. Gone are the days when he looks for the back of the net.

“I definitely had a little bit of anxiousness and nervousness at the beginning of the season,” Gabrek said. “When you’re not used to playing a position you have to make sure all you do all the little things right. It’s kind of just a waiting game, waiting for the other team to attack.”

Gabrek and the Lions are a team built to win state. They took second in the Pepsi Showdown, losing to Morton in penalty kicks. Lyons was ranked No. 2 by the Sun-Times last week behind Morton, before falling to Leyden 3-1 on Oct. 9.

Gabrek was hesitant to talk about bringing home an Class 3A State title, like his brother Peter did in 2009.

“State championship … uhhhh … it’s something everyone is thinking about but it’s taboo,” Leo said. “You don’t want to talk about it too much. But it’s on everyone’s mind and everyone’s final goal.”

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