SOUTH KINGSTOWN — One look at Gabe Sloat’s uniform number will tell you everything you need to know about the progress he’s made with the University of Rhode Island football team.
When he joined the Rams as a walk-on for the 2019 season, Sloat was given number 69, which is usually reserved for offensive linemen. Sloat is a running back, but the team had a roster crunch and didn’t have a better number for him. Looking out of place in the backfield, Sloat nonetheless stuck around.
When he returned for 2020 fall practices and the delayed spring season, he was given number 34. He saw his first game action against Albany and now finds himself in the mix for opportunities as the Rams prep for the 2021 fall season.
“I was number 69 my freshman year,” Sloat said. “It took a while but I just stuck to it, and now I’m finally getting my opportunities to be out here and show what I can do.”
Roster attrition is common for the Rams. Walk-ons don’t always stick, especially when they’re a long way from the field. But Sloat was desperate to have that jersey, even if it wasn’t the right number.
He had become one of the best running backs in the state at North Kingstown High School, his emergence dovetailing with the program’s breakthrough as a powerhouse. He scored three touchdowns in the team’s 2017 Division II Super Bowl win. As the Skippers moved up to D-I in 2018, Sloat became even more of a focal point, but his senior season was cut short by a broken leg suffered in the first round of the playoffs. He watched from the sideline as the Skippers won another championship.
The injury hammered home the fact that Sloat wanted to keep playing football, but it also made that prospect more difficult.
“I was trying to play somewhere, but I got hurt my senior year before I had any colleges talking to me,” Sloat said. “When they gave me a chance here, I took it and just put my head down and started working.”
That year, URI was making a concerted effort to bring local players into the program as a preferred walk-ons. Assistant coach Mike Flanagan – himself a former RIIL running back at Bishop Hendricken – put invites out to a host of Rhode Islanders, and many took him up on it.
“We’ve been calling these guys ‘Flanagan’s Army,’” head coach Jim Fleming said at the time. “He went out and knocked on the doors of all the high schools in the state. They all should know and we followed through, that we’ll give them an opportunity to play. We don’t have scholarships for everybody, but we’ll give them an opportunity. I think you’re seeing good things from a number of those guys.”
Sloat jumped at the chance.
“When I was in high school, I really didn’t see too many Rhode Island guys going places,” he said. “When Flanagan recruited us, it was nice to be with a bunch of guys who came from the same area, because Rhode Island is usually getting overlooked. It’s nice to see all of us out here.”
The 2019 season went down as a redshirt year. He got on the field in the spring season but is still looking for his first carry. It’s a deep backfield headed by breakout star Kevin Brown, Jr., but Sloat will just keep working. In the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp last week, he scored a touchdown.
“I come every day, do what they ask me to do and whatever happens, happens,” Sloat said. “I’ll help the team any way they want me to. If that happens to be going out there on a game day, then that’s great.”