Sprague Field is always packed with rabid and ecstatic fans at any given Montclair State University football game, but redshirt freshman Dorian Gashi has a very unique fan base that brings even more excitement to every game.
This rowdy fan base shows up in large numbers, with painted words and numbers on their shirtless bodies in support of their favorite linebacker. They are the loudest fans in the stands and are constantly cheering on Gashi, win or lose.
Gashi’s fans aren’t just random people though, but his Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity brothers.
“It means a lot for the men of PIKE to come support me,” Gashi said. “I love when they come to the games with their Pi Kappa Alpha gear and with their shirts off with MSU [Montclair State] painted on them. It’s fun to be around that type of scenery during college football.”
Gashi has given his fervent fan base a reason to celebrate his play. In only seven games this season, the freshman linebacker has totaled 29 tackles (4.5 for a loss) along with a forced fumble and blocked kick. His play has been rewarded with back-to-back honors this season, specifically the title of New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Rookie Of The Week.
With how well his early career at Montclair State has gone thus far, you may be surprised to find out that Gashi wasn’t heavily sought out after during recruiting despite the phenomenal high school career he put together.
At West Essex High School, Gashi racked up numerous all-conference and county awards in his four years with the program, including an NJ All-Group 3 selection in 2018. Most notably, he led West Essex to a North 2 Group 3 state championship in his junior year, leading a vaunted Knights defense that only gave up an average of 11 points per game.
But again, Division I schools weren’t necessarily biting at the tongue to recruit Gashi. In fact, he only received serious interest from a few Division I schools. According to him, his build at the time (6 feet and 195 pounds) might’ve caused Division I colleges to turn a blind eye to his talent.
“I was always overlooked in football,” Gashi said. “I wasn’t the highest recruit in my team or my class. There were always other guys getting recruited more than me. When you’re on the football field, everyone’s the same. You get the same chance [and] the same play. I think football helps me prove myself.”
However, one university in particular believed in the player that he knew he could be. Wagner University, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school in Staten Island, New York was the only school to express serious interest in him. After a few visits, he decided to continue his athletic career with the Seahawks.
“I thought Wagner could give me something that other schools couldn’t, such as the type of competition I was playing,” Gashi said. “I really wanted to play against the top competition and we did — a lot of Division I FBS schools.”
While the Seahawks may have gone up against some of the best teams in college football, they certainly couldn’t compete with them. The winning culture that Gashi had grown accustomed to at West Essex wasn’t the same at Wagner. In fact, the program hasn’t recorded a winning season since 2014, finishing with an abysmal 1-11 record in Gashi’s freshman redshirt season.
With Wagner not working out, Gashi desired to be a part of a winning culture again, but somewhere he knew he could compete for championships and be an integral part of their success. He had also wanted to return home to be closer with his family and friends.
Montclair State became the obvious choice for him.
“[Montclair State] was the better opportunity for me,” Gashi said. “I think they have more of a winning tradition than Wagner did. I was initially recruited by Montclair State, but because it was [super close to home], I passed up on it initially. However, I’m happy I’m here now.”
Speaking of tradition, a very popular motto resonated with him when making his decision to come to Red Hawk Country.
“On the football team, we have a saying called ‘keep pounding,’” Gashi said. “I think that really resonated with me because you just [have to] keep moving forward every day, and you [have to] take your life and your football career day by day. That’s what ‘keep pounding’ is all about.”
When it was announced that Gashi was planning on transferring, excitement quickly grew amongst the coaching staff at Montclair State.
Defensive coordinator Todd Agresta was thrilled to work with a player as talented as Gashi.
“His reputation in high school is second to none,” Agresta said. “When word got around that he wanted to transfer home, I looked at his [game film] and I was like, ‘This kid can play.’ On film, he’s a great tackler and I knew that could do a lot of good things for us in terms of how we play defense.”
While some football players rely solely on athleticism to get by, Gashi has always been a student of the game. His football IQ has helped him make a quick transition into Agresta’s defensive scheme.
“He’s very smart and can diagnose plays quickly,” Agresta said. “He communicates well to his partners depending on what coverage and blitz we are in. He came in and really learned our system quickly and has brought our defense up a notch.”
Graduate student linebacker Seamus Nelson has been the longtime starter at the position since 2018, playing alongside some of the best linebackers in school history such as former All-American Mauro Altamura. While Gashi hasn’t been named an All-American yet, Nelson believes that Gashi’s ability to make plays compliments him perfectly on the field.
“He’s a playmaker. [He is] always willing to put his body on the line,” Nelson said. “You can always trust him in pass coverage or when rushing the passer, but he can also play the run as well. Having someone you can trust right next to you really helps yourself play better, and that’s what I’ve experienced so far playing next to him.”
If he continues to elevate his game, Nelson points out, it may not be too long before Gashi’s name becomes synonymous with some of the all-time great linebackers here at Montclair State.
“His potential is limitless,” Nelson said. “He has three more years of eligibility left and has already set the bar pretty high. If he keeps working hard, there’s no limit [to what he can do].”