By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
Imagine getting punched in the stomach by somebody who is 50 pounds heavier than you. About 100 times. That’s kind of what it feels like to Gavin Somers when he has a Crohn’s Disease flare-up. And the worst part is, he never knows when a flare-up is going to come. It’s something the Mainland senior has been dealing with since he was 6 years old, but it hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the better defensive players in Cape-Atlantic League boys lacrosse.
He never uses his disease as an excuse. That’s just the way lacrosse players are built. Go out there and do your job, no matter what, or somebody else will. Somers had a particularly bad flare-up about two months ago that landed him in the hospital — again — and threatened to derail his senior season with the Mustangs. But he’s rebounded strong, as he usually does, with the help of an outstanding support system made up of his family, teammates and coaches. And, if he can stay as healthy as possible for the next two months, the Mustangs have the talent to do some big things. This is perhaps Mainland’s most talented team ever, with attack players such as Antonio Yeoman, Keegan Ford and Vincent Guinta, one of the best goalies in South Jersey in Hunter Faunce, and three top notch defenders in Somers, Dylan Dill and newcomer Nate Rush, who takes over for the graduated Matt Ognibene.
“He was good last year until he got sick at the end of the season, but he played a lot of club lacrosse over the summer. If there’s one thing I notice about Gavin this year — he always had the ability to get a quick takeaway, but he seems to be relentless with takeaways this year. That’s his strong point. He has a good ability to see passes and take the ball away from people. The leading by example that he exudes is paramount, and on top of that he’s a very spirited kid. He’s quiet on a daily basis, but when Gavin straps his lacrosse helmet on, he becomes a different person. It’s like a guy putting a business suit on; he puts his suit on and goes to work,” Stangs coach Clayton Smith said of Somers, who has been recruited to play for Wingate University in North Carolina. “I’ve never had him in class, but you never hear a bad word about him. He’s very well respected and liked in the school, is never a discipline issue, and he’s academically good enough to go play at the college level. He’s just a good overall kid.”

With senior Gavin Somers leading the defense, Mainland has jumped out to a 7-1 start, the Mustangs’ only loss coming to South Jersey powerhouse St. Augustine Prep. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“He’s a character, to say the least. He’s always making everybody laugh at the right times, but he knows when to get down to business. He’s always ready to get down and dirty. He knows when to say certain things at the right time,” said Dill, a lifelong teammate and one of Somers’ closest friends. He’s a smart player. He knows what’s going on at all times, everywhere on the field. It’s almost like a sixth sense. He and I have been playing together since we were very young and we really gel together. I can’t imagine playing without him next year. We’ve been talking about going to a South Jersey Group 3 final since our freshman year. We knew we were special in eighth grade when we won the final, and that opened our eyes to how good we could actually be. After that, we’ve always had this thing where we want to go (to the sectional final). We’ve always had that in the back of our minds, and as a defensive unit, we’ve been working toward that. We all always try to play for each other, and knowing what he’s going through every day makes us try to give a little bit more.”
Somers said he tries his best to keep the flare-ups (which is inflammation of the intestines) off his mind, but it’s not easy. An episode can have him down for the count for days, dehydrated, unable to eat, doubled over with massive stomach pain.
“The flare-ups come whenever they want to come, really. There’s no telling when they will come. I go for an infusion every month. As long as I’m in remission, I’m good, it’s just hard not knowing when the flare-ups are going to come,” Somers said. “You just get really lethargic and tired, stomach cramping 24/7 — it makes you not want to even get out of bed. I’ve been living with it since I’ve been 6 years old, so I’ve just learned to live with it. I try to keep it out of my head as much as I can.”
The last one, a few months ago, was particularly bad.
“I got really dehydrated to the point where if I got up off the couch it felt like I would pass out. It was really frustrating because I put in a lot of work leading up to that. My liver levels were really bad, so that kept me out of lifting and practicing. I couldn’t do anything for a month or so. It just killed all the progress I had leading up to the season. The first couple days of March, I was out, but I knew I just had to bounce back. Just the thought of kids having things way worse than I do, and being able to conquer it and keep doing what they love, kept me going,” he said. “At times, it’s unbearable. It’s a mental game, just trying to get out of the funk and thinking it’s never going to stop. But I just tell myself that I have to get through it. There’s no other way. When a flare-up first starts, it’s kind of a shell shock. I’ll be feeling great, then I’m dehydrated, can’t eat and can’t get out of bed. After those first couple of days, you just have to get into the right state of mind. I don’t know how my family deals with this, taking time out of their schedule to take me to the hospital once a month, to doctors appointments — I don’t know how they do it, to be honest, but they do it. Without them, I don’t know how I’d be able to do it. They’ve given me more than enough support.”
His senior teammates have been through it all with him, and they know if he ever has to miss practice or a game, they just have to tighten up the ship and keep things going until Somers is able to return to the lineup.
“I give him all the credit in the world because I know how tough it’s been for him. There are days when you can tell he’s feeling terrible, but he still comes in and works hard and pushes the tempo for everybody at practice. I don’t know how he does it, honestly,” Dill said. “I never really have a problem like that, and sometimes it’s hard for me to get through the day, so I can only imagine how he feels going through every day with a condition like that. Sometimes he comes in to school and his stomach is killing him, to the point where he can’t even walk around. Whenever he’s feeling bad, I try to tell him, ‘me and you, we have to hold this thing down and keep working hard.’ He’s a real hard worker and is always willing to get to it.”

Somers was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 6, but hasn’t let that slow him down. He’s fought through flare-ups and hospitalizations to become one of the best defensemen in the Cape-Atlantic League. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“Even with my best friends on the team, like Antonio, Dylan, Vince and Hunter, they’ve all been through it with me. Ever since I was little, playing taxi football, they would always come up to the hospital and visit. Every time I get sick they always pop by the house, bring me stuff from Wawa. They’ve been great. They are always there when I need them, and I can’t ask for a better group of guys,” Somers said. “It’s a great feeling when I’m feeling good. The mindset is just staying hungry. When I’m sick, all I’m thinking about is getting well, and when I’m finally well, I just have to perform. There’s no other way to put it.”
“It affects him on and off. It affected him toward the end of last season and that’s why he missed some games. He just couldn’t rebound the way he wanted to. He was in the hospital this winter, and it was pretty bad. I always have a little bit of a concern with him because it’s kind of week-to-week with how he feels, but there’s never been a concern that he couldn’t make it through a season. Along with his other stuff, he just got done dealing with a case of pneumonia and I’m amazed at how well he played against St. Augustine Prep because of how he was feeling,” Smith added. “He’s very resilient. Even when he’s not feeling well — I can tell, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell. He definitely composes himself very well. He, Nate and Dylan are my defensive triangle, and he and Dylan know each other so well. They don’t have to wonder what the other one is thinking or is going to do, and that’s huge with them working together like that. And they are both helping Nate progress along because he’ll be the point of the triangle after those guys graduate.”
With a healthy Somers manning the defensive zone, the Mustangs won three of its first four games, it’s only loss coming to South Jersey powerhouse St. Augustine Prep. In the three wins, they’ve allowed just two goals, twice, as the defensive unit has played up to its preseason billing as one of the best around.
“It’s reassuring to know you have kids like Gavin and the rest of the defense. There’s never an issue of wondering if the defense is going to show up and do their job. They just do,” Smith said. “Teams have trouble dealing with a guy as big as Dylan, as strong as Gavin and as quick as Nate. The three of them together are really tough.”
“The wait for this season was unbearable. There wasn’t a day we all weren’t talking about lacrosse. It’s hard to fathom that we’ve lost out (on the Cape-Atlantic League title) to Ocean City for three years, and we don’t want to let that happen this year. That’s one of our main focuses, but we have a bunch of key games. The ultimate goal is to win South Jersey Group 3,” Somers said. “The main focus of our defense is to just play our game. We have a couple mean guys back there, and we know that if we get beat, Hunter is back there to make the save. All our confidence is in him. Even in the Prep game, he made a couple of key saves on the doorstep, I don’t know how he does it. Our mindset is just going into every game trying to get a shutout.”
Somers said he doesn’t care that long poles rarely get their name in the paper, and don’t get a lot of credit when the team wins. That’s just how it is, and if you’re a defensive player it’s not about personal recognition, it’s about being the reason your team wins games and championships, something the Mustangs have on their mind every time they strap on their helmets.
“I love playing defense. It’s a little place back there that’s hidden and doesn’t get any love, but as long as we can get the ball up so the offense can score, that’s all that matters. I love the physicality of it. Growing up, my main sports were hockey, football and baseball. After being diagnosed (with Crohn’s) I had to stop playing football, and lacrosse was the next best thing,” Somers said. “I’m hoping for something big this year, and there’s no reason we can’t do it.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays