Highlands’ Gabe Norris commits to Robert Morris University

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Monday, December 7, 2020 | 8:18 PM


Gabe Norris’ recruitment has dragged on for the past two years, but when it came down to it, the Highlands midfielder found his collegiate home in about two weeks.

On Sunday, Norris announced his commitment to continue his soccer career at Robert Morris.

“It’s weird because I’ve been doing this for so long, and it’s definitely a huge weight off my shoulders,” Norris said. “It feels good to just kind of be done with the whole process. It’s a crazy process and then you add covid into the mix, and it’s even crazier and more unpredictable. But it’s definitely nice to be done with it, and I’m really happy with the decision and really happy that I’ll be playing for a coach like Coach (Jason) O’Keefe.”

O’Keefe was recruiting Norris to come to Appalachian State early in the recruiting process, but the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.

Norris said O’Keefe had shown interest after seeing him play in a showcase in Florida, and Norris had scheduled an official visit for some time in March. But the pandemic canceled that visit, and O’Keefe sold his program, his system and what he expects from his players over a Zoom call earlier this year.

“We got to know each other really well over that time period, but then that program got canceled pretty shortly after that,” Norris said. “It was really disappointing for me because I really liked coach O’Keefe so much as a coach.”

On Nov. 23, Robert Morris announced their hiring of O’Keefe after longtime coach Bill Denniston retired in the summertime. One of O’Keefe’s first calls was to Norris.

“He called me, I applied, toured the campus and it all happened really quickly, a lot quicker than I had anticipated,” Norris said. “It’s kinda crazy to think about because I’ve been in this process for so long, and then really the whole thing happened over the span of two-and-a-half weeks.”

With everything going on in the world, the decision seemed easy for Norris, who scored 13 goals and tallied 14 assists as a senior this year. Norris said O’Keefe’s desire to give back to the community and some of his core values stuck out. But O’Keefe’s success as a coach also did.

During his last season at Appalachian State, O’Keefe led the Mountaineers to their second straight winning season and recorded a win over nationally ranked North Carolina. O’Keefe also led one of the top defenses in the Sun Belt Conference. In his four years, they recorded 24 clean sheets and only allowed 18 goals during the 2018 season.

“He talked about rebuilding Appalachian State, how close they were to that turning point where they were getting national recognition and how he wants to bring that to RMU,” Norris said. “Something about being a part of that opportunity just really excites me, and I know he’ll do the same thing at RMU.”

In his four-year high school career at Highlands, Norris finished with 52 goals and 53 assists. Although his senior year numbers didn’t represent it, the future Colonial made a big jump this past summer.

While playing club soccer with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Norris also spent time with the Pittsburgh Hotspurs this summer and played in the National Premier Soccer League. The league includes current and former college players.

Playing with older players like former Trib HSSN Boys Soccer Player of the Year Nate Dragisich and other top players from the area gave Norris a lot of confidence over the course of this past summer. During the NPSL Member’s Cup this summer, Norris worked his way into the starting lineup and gained valuable experience.

“I just listened to everything from the older guys, I listened to all of the coaches and do whatever they said to stay at my top level,” Norris said. “It was kind of like a turning point for me where I really wanted to play at that level moving forward.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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