Student. Athlete. Captain.
Graduate midfielder Gabriel Fernandes did it all. He never took a day off, never made an excuse and always made sure he was the best he could be for his teammates. The 23-year-old North Babylon-native played soccer for six seasons on the Stony Brook men’s soccer team until a shootout loss on Nov. 6 to UMBC. It was there where his farewell tour came to completion as he was surrounded by both tears and embraces.
Fernandes grew up on Long Island with soccer running in his family. His father, Carlos, played professional soccer in Brazil for 10 years. His older brother, Leonardo, better known as “Leo,” played for Stony Brook’s men’s soccer team from 2009 to 2012. Leo is a Stony Brook soccer legend, winning three America East Midfielder of the Year awards en route to becoming the program’s all-time leader in points scored with 79. He was inducted into the Stony Brook Hall of Fame in the class of 2019.
Leo made 32 appearances for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer (MLS), becoming the third Stony Brook player to reach an MLS roster. Now, Leo still plays professionally, enjoying a successful run as a midfielder for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship.
Gabriel’s other older brother, Kaique, played college soccer at the junior college level for two years at Iowa Western Community College, and then transferred to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where he spent two years on their roster.
Along with Fernandes’ older brothers was his twin brother, Gustavo, whose college path was a combination of both his older brothers’ careers. Gustavo went to Iowa Western for the first two years of his collegiate career and transferred to Stony Brook, where he played soccer for two years alongside Gabriel before graduating in 2019. Like his older counterparts, he now plays professionally as a defender for the Forward Madison Football Club in the USL League One.
Gabriel had some big shoes to fill, but he held his own.
“I had examples above me,” he said in an interview with The Statesman. “My older brother went D1, my second older brother went D1, but they had two different paths. One brother had to take the SAT in the summer to get into Stony Brook while the other one had to go to JUCO [junior college]. Just learning from their mistakes and learning what they had to do definitely made the path easier for me.”
Gabriel had to do a lot more than just make good decisions to get himself into Stony Brook.
“I still had to grind my own way,” he said. “When I was younger, I had to play at the highest level, and club soccer at the time was not the highest level. You had to play through the academy. You had to go get after it and play for the best team.”
He then described the biggest decision of his soccer career — one that ultimately set him up to become a Division I athlete.
“I was playing with my childhood club,” he said. “I was there since I was like five years old, and then at U-18, I had to make a jump to the academy team to go to the rival team at the time. So I had to leave all of my good friends and I had to make a huge decision to go to this better team. On this team, I had one of the best experiences of my life.”
Fernandes made the right moves, put in the right amount of work and the right dominoes fell into place. However, it was not all great from the beginning, as he came to Stony Brook as a 165-pound, 18-year-old boy back in the fall of 2016 and redshirted his freshman year with no scholarship.
So how did he work on his craft and improve his performance? What did he do to help himself live up to the Fernandes family reputation, and quite literally, their family tradition?
“The way I like to see it is, the rent is due every day and you’ve got to pay it,” he said. “There are guys I know who have been on the team who put their schoolwork first, or other stuff first. For me, it’s soccer first. My day revolves around soccer. Like I’ve got soccer from 2 to 5 [p.m.] … I’ve got to revolve everything else around that … Once you get your priorities mixed up, you can do harm to yourself.”
It’s not easy, but Fernandes makes it work.
“The habits have to stay the same. Come in early, rehab, treatment rooms, lift whenever you can. Always do extra. Never do the bare minimum,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long, and I love it so much. Every day I think about how much I need to sleep, what I need to eat, how long I need to lift. And you’ve always got to find time to do this. You can’t make excuses. I hate excuses.”
Being a Division I athlete, Fernandes had a strict set of guidelines to follow. The largest one affected campus life, which for a typical college student could very well be a dealbreaker. However, Fernandes stated that those who are dedicated will find no issues with it.
“We have a 48-hour rule where you can’t be in a social setting with alcohol before a game,” he said. “You miss a lot, but at the end of the day, you’d rather miss those nights out and do what you love. There are plenty of nights in the world.”
Despite the limitations on personal activities and the time-consuming need to work out and practice, Fernandes’ dedication proved worthy. In his first year, he took out loans from the bank to help pay his tuition. By his second year, Fernandes was going to Stony Brook on a full ride and finally seeing time on the field.
That season, he played in 14 matches, starting five of them as the team finished 7-6-5 and earned a berth to the America East playoffs. By his third year, he was a full-time starter and finally found the scoreboard, putting up nine points on three goals and three assists. He helped lead his team to their fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
Stony Brook fell into a two-year cold spell after that, struggling mightily in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. However, Fernandes had his favorite career moment during that disastrous 2019 campaign, when he scored his only goal of that season on Senior Night versus the Albany Great Danes, Stony Brook’s fiercest rival. The goal was a game-winner in what was his twin brother’s last home match at Stony Brook.
“Just for us to win that game, it felt so good,” he said. “And to score a goal, the game-winning goal, and to take my shirt off with everybody yelling and stuff like that, that was definitely a great highlight from my career.”
The constant work Fernandes put in helped him grow in every area. Throughout his six-year tenure with the soccer program, he gained 20 pounds of muscle, jumping to 185 by his final year. Thanks to his work ethic, experience and other qualities, he was deemed worthy of the armband, as head coach Ryan Anatol named him team captain going into this past season. Fernandes had never been a captain before — not in middle school, not in high school, just at Stony Brook.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “I joke around and tell the guys ‘It’s like having 29 sons.’ It’s very rewarding … I tell them all the time that I’m here to serve them. They’re not here to serve me.”
Fernandes’ leadership guided his team to a home playoff match this year. They had not been to the playoffs, let alone above .500, since his redshirt-sophomore season of 2018.
“I’ve been on a roller coaster of a ride and I’ve learned so much about myself,” he said. “I came in as a very naïve freshman — very immature. To see where I’ve come from and to what I am now is very rewarding.”
Many have praised his leadership and motivational speaking abilities, including his teammate, sophomore forward Aki Solvason.
“He’s such a good motivational speaker,” Solvason said. “He really pushes me to be the very best player that I can be … I think every team needs a ‘Bebe.’”
Fernandes, by his own admittance, used to be a poor leader. He credits a Leadership 210 class for changing that, as well as the books “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” by Kobe Bryant and “Once Upon a Cow: Eliminating Excuses and Settling for Nothing but Success” by Dr. Camilo Cruz, the latter of which was recommended to him by Anatol before the 2021 season.
“I think when you look at Gabe’s career, he’s gone through a lot of ups and downs, going from a guy who redshirted his freshman year to team captain,” Anatol said. “Not just during the game, but in the locker room, on the training field, he lends a lot of experience to the other guys playing right now.”
Always available, Fernandes did not miss a single game in his final four years with the Seawolves and showed a knack for the big moment by scoring three game-winning goals in his career. His most recent feat came against Columbia on Sept. 6, when he made his first career penalty kick to give Stony Brook a 1-0 lead and then played strong defense to help secure a victory.
“There is a little bit of added pressure because when stuff goes wrong, people look to you,” Fernandes said about the challenges that come with being captain. “I still sometimes struggle with my own anger. But you’ve got to get the players going again and right now, and that’s not easy. But the team talk is definitely working — the guys say they love it.”
In his six seasons with the team, Stony Brook made the conference playoffs four times. The most recent occurrence was the most unexpected — the Seawolves were picked to finish eighth in the 2021 America East preseason poll before defying the doubters and ending up in fourth place. The bid was clinched on Senior Night against Albany on Nov. 1, when the ever-emotional Fernandes dropped to the turf in relief as the clock hit zeros all around.
The Seawolves’ loss to UMBC in the quarterfinals signaled the official end of Fernandes’ Stony Brook career. He did not hide his emotion, shedding tears at midfield as the Retrievers sideline poured out onto the field. As the congratulatory announcements were made for UMBC, Fernandes’ teammates showed their love and reverence for their captain, surrounding and embracing him, sharing intense emotions as they prepared to leave alongside him one last time.
Having said that, we have not seen the last of Fernandes. He will still be studying at Stony Brook next semester, on track to complete his studies in the spring with a graduate degree in multidisciplinary studies. He has expressed interest in following in his father’s and brothers’ footsteps by becoming a professional soccer player.
“If I don’t try, I’ll live my life with regrets, and I don’t want to live like that,” he said, while also not ruling out the possibility of being a coach or joining the Marines.
Fernandes has left a lasting impression on his teammates, coaches, and supporters at Stony Brook University, and he will be remembered for a long time. He has shown himself to be a hard worker, an excellent communicator, a selfless character and a tenacious individual. On the field, he has solidified his reputation as a superb athlete and, according to many, an even better leader.
No matter what the past says or what the future holds, for Fernandes, one thing is certain: he can handle it.