Blake Gimbel was the ball boy for the Marshalltown High School (Iowa) football team when Tyler Peschong was quarterback for the Bobcats' varsity squad. He watched from the sidelines as Peschong put his name in the Iowa record books as a passer, watched Peschong develop into leader, watched Peschong go on to play college ball at Southwest Minnesota State University.
All the while, Gimbel was soaking up information about what it takes to be a great quarterback, and over the past four years, that's what he's become.
Gimbel's name is all over the Iowa high school football record books. Playing in Iowa's largest class (4A), he threw for a single-season state record of 3,979 yards in as a junior in 2011, then tied that record the following year. He also has the record for most pass completions in a season (301 in 2012) and is tied for the fourth-most touchdown passes in a season (39 in 2011). He holds the state's single-game record for passing yards (567 in 2011) and is tied for second in pass completions in a game (42 in 2011 and 2012).
When it came time to pick a college, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound signal caller narrowed down his choices to Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference programs Winona State and SMSU. He made his decision just before Christmas, giving a verbal commitment to play for SMSU, but didn't make his choice public until last week. Although the Warriors have had more success than the Mustangs over the years, Gimbel said he felt drawn to SMSU.
"The coaching staff was really good and I really liked them from the start," Gimbel said. "I was looking for that hometown feeling and Southwest Minnesota State gave me that. The guys really took me in well, and I have connections up there anyways, so that's always a good thing to have."
Peschong, who wrapped up his senior season in 2012, was one of the first to congratulate Gimbel for his choice. He's not the only Marshalltown connection Gimbel shares, however. Ty Steffensen, a slot receiver who redshirted in 2012, caught passes from Gimbel for three seasons with the Bobcats. Gimbel said he's eager to rekindle that connection in college.
"When I was a freshman in high school we started playing 7-on-7 together and I had a solid three years with (Steffensen) because he was just one grade older than me," Gimbel said. "Senior year he was definitely the go-to guy, had the most receptions, most yards, most touchdowns, so I'm definitely looking forward to getting that connection back. We're really good friends on and off the field. We really do have that chemistry together and I'm looking forward to getting that going again."
Gimbel will have to wait a while before he's tossing passes to Steffensen, at least in games. He said the plan is to redshirt his first year.
Along with his Marshalltown connections, Gimbel said another reason he came to SMSU was to play for head coach Cory Sauter, who is also the quarterbacks coach and was a signal caller himself at the University of Minnesota and had stints with four NFL teams.
"When I came on my official visit, the stuff he was talking about and the ways he was going to go about things, it was really attention-grabbing," Gimbel said. "He has this vision and we're going to put it to work and it's going to be hard to stop. I'm really looking forward to running it and getting it down and getting ready to go."
There are some differences between Gimbel and Peschong. Peschong is a couple of inches taller and has a bigger build. Peschong was also good at making plays with his legs when needed, while Gimbel said he doesn't look to run much.
He may not be as mobile as Peschong, but Gimbel said he hopes to emulate his predecessor's leadership qualities and help turn SMSU into a contender in the NSIC.
"We're probably not going to have all the passing yards I had in high school, obviously, but I just want to be a solid, complete player," Gimbel said. "I want to be a team player, a team leader. Everybody needs that. The quarterback, he's running the show out there so you've got to communicate with your guys, keep them up, keep them motivated and just keep striving."