Gage Harrah thrived at Crystal Lake Central in football and wrestling because he was competitive and tenacious.
Those qualities became prominent again during his college recruitment. Football was his first love; wrestling was where the NCAA Division I scholarship money was, and Harrah definitely wanted the title of D-I athlete.
Harrah accepted Drexel’s scholarship offer and headed to Philadelphia last summer, where he later was joined by high school teammates Clay Lutzow and Jason Fugiel. But Harrah did not make the lineup at 184 pounds, butted heads with coach Matt Azevedo and eventually left the team.
As the absence of football grew on Harrah, the regard for being D-I lessened. Harrah, who is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, signed during the spring semester with D-II Notre Dame (Ohio) College where he will play football and wrestle.
“My sport has always been football,” said Harrah, a two-time Northwest Herald All-Area first-team player. “Wrestling was always there for me to do because I liked doing it and was very good at it. Drexel was good at first. When wrestling started I realized it wasn’t a fit for me. I want to play football.”
Harrah left the team, but maintained his scholarship for the school year, at which point he was told he would be released. Harrah, a two-time state wrestling champion, and Fugiel were named to the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason All-Freshman Team. Azevedo chose not to discuss Harrah’s situation.
In an email, Drexel assistant athletic director and communications director Mike Tuberosa stated: “Coach Matt Azevedo respectfully declines your request. He doesn’t talk about players no longer on the team. [Harrah] left the team earlier this year and is finishing up the semester and will be looking to transfer to another school.”
Greg Harrah emailed the Notre Dame coaches to inform them his son was interested in transferring to their school. Football coach Adam Howard and assistant wrestling coach Anthony Ralph replied right away.
“My main reason for transferring was I wanted to play football,” said Harrah, who will play linebacker at Notre Dame. “That was the first priority. Wrestling just happened to help out. They did a 50/50 scholarship for wrestling and football. I wasn’t getting full rides for football and I didn’t want to pay anything for college. So I said I’d wrestle and play football to get the money I would like.”
Notre Dame, located in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid, was 3-8 in football. The Falcons’ wrestling team finished third in the NCAA D-II National Tournament. Ralph had recruited Harrah out of high school.
“He was initially familiar with Notre Dame for wrestling [from high school],” Howard said. “I think [Harrah] realized he really wanted to play football. He’s a very good football player. He mainly said he wanted the opportunity to play football. Football is his passion, he’s obviously very good at that. We feel very lucky to have him.”
Howard admitted the Notre Dame coaches had some concerns about Harrah leaving his previous team.
“At the same time, I’ve been in [coaching] long enough to know that not every school and situation is the right fit,” Howard said. “Everybody makes decisions here or there that are wrong for them and I think he realized that. That’s not for me to judge him. I wanted to be sure he feels right about Notre Dame.”
Harrah does. He kept working out while attending classes at Drexel, lifting weights every day and running every other day. He played running back as a sophomore and junior in high school, then also played linebacker as a senior.
“You need to be happy where you’re at in order to be successful,” Harrah said. “I’m ready to play some linebacker. I can’t wait to hit people.”