Every once in a while, a special type of player comes around.
Santa Ynez had one of those players last decade: receiver/defensive back Gabe Prendergast.
For Pirate coach Josh McClurg, Prendergast is clearly one of the top players in his program's history and unquestionably the top receiver the program has ever seen.
"He's that once-in-a-generation type of player," McClurg says of Prendergast. "We were lucky to have him and (All-League receiver) Jasper Kadlec at the same time, but Gabe was a super special kid.
The physical tailback known for his punishing running style once declared himself the 'YAC President' at Lompoc High. He made his declaration shortly after carrying the ball 36 times for 177 yards against Arroyo Grande and standout linebacker Seth Jacobs in 2011. (YAC meaning 'yards after contact', a value all respectable running backs look to build up).
"We knew something big was going to happen any time he touched the ball."
Prendergast is the fifth nominee for Player of the Decade. Players from Northern Santa Barbara County and Southern San Luis Obispo County are eligible. The sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News polled area coaches to construct a list of nominees.
Prendergast made the cut after hauling in 127 passes for 2,591 yards and 29 touchdowns during his three seasons as a varsity player in Santa Ynez from 2015-17.
He capped his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and 26 total touchdown receptions in those two years.
Prendergast was also a threat on sweeps and other designed runs from his receiver position. He had 37 carries for 550 yards and five scores as a runner.
That's not all. Prendergast was also one of the Pirates' better defenders, often playing nearly every snap on offense, defense and special teams during his Santa Ynez career.
He compiled 113 total tackles with 7.5 tackles-for-loss. He also had two sacks and intercepted nine passes during his career.
Taua, who graduated from Lompoc High in 2014 and played defensive line and fullback at UCLA, is our second nominee for Player of the Decade. The sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News polled area coaches for nominees and will allow readers to vote for Player of the Decade after all the nominees have been announced. Arroyo Grande's Seth Jacobs, the first nominee, was announced last week.
Prendergast finished his career with 38 total touchdowns: 29 receiving, 5 rushing, two on interception returns and two on kick returns.
"He's probably the best receiver I’ve ever coached and certainly the best receiver in school history," McClurg said.
McClurg, a Santa Ynez grad who coached at Nipomo as an assistant before coming back to the Pirates as head coach, noted that he also coached Kevin Britt, who played at Cal Poly, and Akeem King, who has spent the past five seasons in the NFL, at Nipomo.
"Both of them were phenomenal and Akeem is still playing on Sundays, but he was one of those late-bloomer type kids," McClurg said. "Kevin Britt and Gabe Prendergast were very similar. Gabe is by far the best receiver in Santa Ynez history. He owns every record we have."
Prendergast had a rare combination of size and speed. He was a 6-foot-2 receiver that could run by the defense for plays deep down field. On defense, he was built like a safety, but could play press coverage on the corner and was a reliable tackler.
"He was fast, but the other thing is that he had this unbelievable vision and a quickness, from side to side, where he just moved different," McClurg said of Prendergast. "He could also jump out of the gym. He had God-given talents and this X factor; knowing where everyone was on the field.
"He was like a great point guard, kind of like Magic Johnson. He knew where everybody was and could see things out of the back of his head."
Prendergast had opportunities to play college football after graduating from Santa Ynez in 2018, drawing interest from FCS schools like the University of San Diego and Cornell, but opted to call it a career after high school.
Prendergast is the fifth Player of the Decade nominee. He joins former Lompoc standouts Ainuu Taua and Lavon Coleman, Seth Jacobs of Arroyo Grande and Blake Truhitte of Santa Maria. More Player of the Decade candidates will be announced this month. Once all the candidates have been published, readers can vote for Player of the Decade.
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2. Gabe Prendergast, Santa Ynez, Sr., WR-DB (6-3, 200)
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