Haddonfield's Gabe Klaus carries on for his injured brother
The versatile junior has led the Bulldawgs to Group 2 title game despite the absence of his brother, a standout two-way back who is out with a knee injury.
Gabe Klaus is used to playing multiple positions for the Haddonfield football team.
On defense, Klaus lines up at end and linebacker. He blitzes off the edge and rushes up the middle.
On offense, Klaus usually is a tight end. But sometimes he's a fullback. And he even gets a couple of opportunities at running back.
"It can be difficult," Klaus, a junior, said of his variety of assignments. "But I like having the opportunity to do more
Klaus has another role that is not listed on the depth chart but is close to his heart. He's carrying on for his
older brother, Ben, a senior two-way back whose career was ended by a knee injury in an Oct. 7 game at Overbrook.
"I never had a brother," Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said. "But I can imagine playing high school football together, it must be a special, unique bond.
"To have it pulled away, with no warning, just gone in one snap, I know it was so tough for both of them.
"And I think Gabe is playing for both of them."
A physically imposing athlete at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Gabe Klaus has led Haddonfield (8-3) to Sunday's South Jersey Group 2 title game against West Deptford (10-1) at Rowan University.
Gabe Klaus has emerged this season as one of South Jersey's top players, with 68 tackles, including 11 for loss, and 10 1/2 sacks as the leading force on Haddonfield's defense.
On offense, Klaus has seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown and 11 rushes for 55 yards and two scores. He also is a top blocker, according to DeLano.
"He's big. He's strong. He's athletic, and he has a high football IQ," DeLano said. "He's a quiet kid but when the lights go on, he's ready to play."
Gabe Klaus' development into an all-South Jersey-caliber player is no surprise to DeLano. In fact, before the season, the coach felt both brothers were capable of such acclaim.
"If he doesn't get hurt, that's Benny, too," DeLano said this week.
Ben Klaus tore ligaments in his left knee on the third snap of the Overbrook game. He has undergone reconstructive surgery but likely will miss his senior season in wrestling as well.
Ben Klaus has been a regular at Haddonfield practices and stands on the sidelines on crutches during games. He said he is proud of Gabe but disappointed to be out of uniform as the Bulldawgs have advanced to the sectional finals for the sixth time since 2009.
"It's just a terrible feeling," Ben Klaus said. "I'm really happy for the team, really happy for Gabe, but it's so tough not to be out there, especially senior year."
The brothers have been playing football together since they were around 7 and 8 years old. This was always going to be their last season, and they were determined to follow in the footsteps of their older brother, Ty Klaus, who is now starting at tight end for William & Mary, as well as cousins Henry and Jake, and becoming part of a Haddonfield championship team.
"That's all we did growing up, play games and go to games," Ben Klaus said. "That's all our family did."
This year was supposed to be something special for the brothers. But Ben Klaus was lost for the season, and two weeks later, Haddonfield dropped a 17-14 overtime decision to West Deptford that kicked off a three-game losing streak.
"That loss to West Deptford, that hit us hard," Gabe Klaus said.
Haddonfield has rallied, turning the tables on Sterling in the first round of the sectional tournament and handling
Cinnaminson in the semifinals to earn another shot at West Deptford.
Gabe Klaus has been front and center in the resurgence, according to DeLano.
But Klaus said it hasn't been the same at home, with his older brother serving more as a cheerleader than standout running back and defensive back.
"I think he feels a little isolated from team," Gabe Klaus said. "I see him down, especially with us here now. We try to make him feel like he's still a part of it, but I think he kind of feels like he's not a part of it because he's not playing.
"But he's tough. He's taking it pretty well. He's not complaining."
Klaus said the season-ending injury to his brother as well as other players has inspired him to raise his game. "Seeing my brother and other people on the team going down, it makes you want to do nothing less than your best," he said.
DeLano said Klaus is the type of athlete who will play his hardest in any circumstance. Still, the coach senses that his versatile junior star has extra motivation.
"I think Gabe wants to make Benny proud," DeLano said. "And we're proud of him for that."