State of the Hogs: Gage

One of my best friends is entering a new era in his life as I write this today. Here's wishing him some great rewards and happiness. He deserves it after what he's given of himself most of his life.

Jeremiah Gage is going to start caring for himself a little now. Well, probably not, but he's got a chance to do that anyway.

Most of his first 26 years, he helped care for an ill mother who spent a lot of his lifetime in a wheelchair. She passed away during his early college days and that's kinda how he became my friend.

I met him first on our message board and that's how I learned about how he cared for his mother. Since I had seen my mother stricken down at a similar age, I reached out to Gage. That was about six years ago. We went to lunch and I learned about his passion for fly fishing. He agreed to be my mentor in that sport.

We bonded on those fly fishing trips on the Norfork and White Rivers, and later on the North Platte in Colorado. He taught me most of the little I know about fly fishing. We've laughed and cried together. Sometimes both. Usually, both were over a lost fish, not a lost Razorback game. Most of the laughing was at my expense as I learned why a wind knot will cause your tippet to break the first time a big fish takes your fly. I caught plenty of small trout with wind knots dotting my tippet and thought the warnings he'd issued were false.

An Ozark native with a flair with a fly rod or a turkey call, Gage taught me about the outdoors, something that was unknown growing up in my house. Eventually, he felt comfortable enough about my skills to take me wading on the fast waters of the upper Mulberry River where we hooked smallmouth bass.

We'd rise at 4 a.m. for our fly fishing trips for trout, knowing we'd be on the Norfork just after sun rise. We'd fix sandwiches on the river for lunch and then make it back in time for dinner, or sometimes for me to cover football practice.

I've learned a lot about fishing from Gage, but I've learned more about life. I've learned how to care for your family and the true meaning of love.

Gage comes across as a fun sort who follows the Razorbacks in a passionate way, both at games and on Internet message boards. He knows recruiting. He'll go to prep games to study the next Razorback prospect. He'll offer opinions on who should have been signed instead of the ones who were. He could actually be right on most of his theories. He knows more details than me, so I won't argue against him.

But he's got a soft side, a nature that made him care for his mother during tough times, then take over the care giving for her father, his maternal grandfather, known to most as "Pops" Treat, when he became ill almost three years ago. He abandoned his final year of college to move in with his Pops. He cooked every meal, took him to the hospital when things were still fixable and then coached the Hospice folks about what his Pops needed the last few weeks. Two days ago Gage held Pops' hand as he passed from this world.

I don't know about you, but don't know many other 26-year-olds who would have done that. The last six months, the fishing trips had to be put on hold. Gage couldn't leave Pops long enough to wet a line and so the telephone visits with me were more about thoughts on fishing than making plans for trips. He'd make suggestions about what I should have done to find more fish or land the ones I hooked.

He's a funny guy and will tell stories on himself that will make you hurt with laughter. I like to tell the one about the overtime football victory the Hogs scored at Alabama. Jeremiah was there and gets partial credit. He left his seat while the Hogs were doing poorly to visit the concession stand. When he figured out that the game had turned while he waited in line, he decided his presence in the stands was a jinx. He watched the rest of the game, including the overtimes, from under the stands on a TV set near the concession stands.

I think he'd prefer standing in a trout stream to sitting in the stands watching the Hogs. I'm sure there are some outstanding guides that know more about landing big trout than Gage, but I prefer spending my days in the river with him. He does the right things to make me feel comfortable when my casts are poorly timed. And, when my rhythm gets right on rare casts, he'll point that out with a "better" or a "that's it" shouted over his shoulder towards my spot in the river.

My daughters laugh about Gage and me. They once wondered why I didn't find a friend my age. Gage is their age and there have been some awkward moments when he popped through the back door at odd hours when they were strolling around the house before breakfast still in their pajamas or less. We kid about him being their big brother, or as they say, "A big brother in need of guidance."

That last part is nothing close to the truth and we all know it. He can guide on the trout waters and can guide in life. We can all take a lesson on how he gave to a mother and a grandfather.

I'm blessed with two wonderful daughters. If I had a son, I'd want one like Jeremiah Gage.

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