For two years, Gabe Ervin waited.
The soft-spoken running back figures his situation would have been different at most high schools. He likely would have been a four-year starter elsewhere. He could have piled up early scholarship offers and played all over the field.
But Ervin attended Georgia's Buford High, a prep powerhouse in the South. So he bided his time.
Nebraska’s lone running back signee in the 2021 class capped a monster senior season last month with a second straight state title. The moment was especially sweet because for a long time he had to trust his chance would come.
Ervin — born in Alabama and an avid childhood fan of the Tide — moved to Buford in eighth grade aiming to take the world by storm. He was already long and speedy, with an ability to go through or around most defenders.
But Buford had a pair of backs in the 2018 class who eventually signed with Florida State and Michigan. Another in 2019 ended up at Texas. When they graduated, Ervin split varsity time with a 2020 prospect who went to Charlotte. Even his two backups this season hold FBS offers.
“What kept me going was learning from those older guys,” Ervin said. “I just always studied them and wanted to possibly be better than them. It was easy to stay patient because I knew my turn was coming.”
Rutgers was his first offer, coming the summer before a junior season in which he ran for more than 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns in shared duty across 13 games. Nebraska was next, as Buford coaches tipped off tight ends coach Sean Beckton — who recruits the area and is beloved within the program — about the long-striding back who kept stubbornly collecting first downs.
Now the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ervin is waiting again. He graduated last month and reports to Nebraska on Jan. 20, which will also be the first time he ever sets foot on campus. He joins a young and unestablished running back room with at least four scholarship players — five if senior Dedrick Mills returns in 2021 — armed with the confidence his best will eventually be enough to carry the ball for the Huskers in meaningful situations.
“The physical stuff will come into play, the talent will come into play,” said Ervin, a consensus three-star prospect and the No. 39 running back in his class according to the 247Sports composite. “You just have to be smarter on the field.”
Ervin thinks steady beats flashy in the long run. He can do spectacular, like when he broke free for a 60-yard gain in the postseason that included a spin, a stiff arm and ramming through a tackler — all in the open field. Buford running backs coach Fyrone Davis called it “the most amazing run I’ve seen in a long time.” Any play is within scoring distance for Ervin, who clocked 48.87 in the 400 meters and 22.51 in the 200.
But the nonhighlight stuff is just as good, Davis said. He considers Ervin’s second-best run of 2020 to be an inside power sprint for about 7 yards in a key spot. The back had the instincts and ability to turn his shoulders vertically and slide through a small space between defenders. It’s the kind of play top college and pro backs make.
“His role on our football team was to be our top man and to show everyone what it looks like to be a top man,” Davis said. “His ball skills are really wicked. He does so many things with the ball in his hands, and I think that’s what separates him from a lot of different guys. His skillset is extremely good.”
Ervin simply doesn’t fumble, Davis said. And while Buford only expanded his role to the passing game this season, that was more a reflection of team depth than limitations. In last week’s state title game against a top-ranked foe, he ran 13 times for 62 yards and added three catches for 63 more.
Buford won the crown in overtime that night but might not have made it that far without Ervin in the final minute. With his squad down seven, he churned out an 8-yard run. On the next play, he picked up a defender on his quarterback’s blind side on the pass that tied the game.
In his senior season, Ervin ran for 1,041 yards — at more than 7 yards per carry — and 17 touchdowns in Georgia’s second-largest classification.
Coach Scott Frost said on signing day that Ervin “can do everything that we need a running back to do.” He’s big enough to be physical. Fast enough to pop more big plays. Reliable catching the ball.
“His junior tape was really good but his senior tape I was super impressed with,” Frost said. “We’ve got some young running backs in the room right now — he’s gonna fit in great with those. It’s going to be fun to watch that competition, but Gabe’s a guy that I look forward to coaching.”
Ervin considered other finalists including Georgia, Arizona State, Michigan State and Duke. He met with Georgia coach Kirby Smart, saw Tobacco Road and traded texts with Ohio State.
But Nebraska won on the strength of Zoom calls and virtual tours, relationships with the coaches and social-media love from fans. Davis assigned him homework to look into Nebraska football history, which opened Ervin’s eyes, too.
Davis said Ervin could be up to 230 pounds in no time, ready for whatever role Frost and Co. can imagine for him within the offense not unlike Ervin’s favorite NFL player, Alvin Kamara.
“Gabe can do so much,” Davis said. “He’s not just a running back. He’s a running back that has elite skillsets.”
Ervin — the middle of three sons to an IT worker and claims adjuster — said he wouldn’t grind if he didn’t love the game. He wakes up every day by asking himself who he is going to be.
One day soon, he expects the answer to be clear to everyone.
“I feel really good,” Ervin said. “Coming off winning a title, it sets the tone when I get there. Coming from a winning school and knowing how to win. I’m just going to go in there humble and do me. Everything else will just fall into place.”