Gabriel Love came into the world five weeks premature as the youngest of six siblings, and his father decided right away the little guy needed some personality.
“I’m a northerner, so it was the little brother born south of the Mason-Dixon Line,” Stew Love said. “And he was in an incubator when I gave him the name.”
That’s how Bubba Love came to be. It’s a nickname Love still reacts to — it’s not even a nickname anymore, really. The recent Westminster High School graduate perhaps leaned on the name to stand out among his siblings when he was younger, but Love needed nothing more than to flash his lacrosse skills for teammates and opponents to take notice.
Love led Carroll County in scoring this spring, powered the Owls to an undefeated record and a second straight Class 3A state championship, and earned Times Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year honors.
Love anchored Westminster’s attack with 60 goals and 44 assists. He was the lone county player to surpass 100 points this season, and he led Carroll in goals and assists.
The Owls went 19-0 and extended their winning streak to 37 in a row this season. They capped it with a 9-8 victory over Northern (Calvert County) in the Class 3A final.
Love netted six goals and had three assists against Linganore in the 3A West title game, a 15-14 victory, and posted four goals and two assists in a16-6 state semifinal win over James M. Bennett.
Love scored just once in the state final, but Westminster’s offense made sure others were ready to fill any void.
“We all just wanted it. Everyone bought in,” Love said. “We all came out every day and wanted to get better. We worked hard.”
Love usually drew the opponent’s top defender, Owls coach Steve DeFeo said, and many times Westminster dealt with double-teams when Love made his move toward the crease.
Those moves came to be because Love knew he’d never be confused with a physical specimen on the field. So he honed his footwork and technique in his younger years, playing against a handful of siblings.
“I’m not that big. I’m not going to really beat too many people,” Love said. “So I kind of just got better off-ball, learned when to cut and how to get open.”
Love’s size belied his intensity and will on the field, DeFeo said.
“Pound for pound, he’s one of the toughest individuals that I’ve had,” DeFeo said. “Bubba has no quit in him.”
Love learned the game at the feet of his three older brothers — Travis, Ben, and Spenser. But he didn’t ignore his two sisters, Lindsay and Coeli, and their talent. After all, the five older Loves have a combined 10 first-team all-county selections and two Player of the Year awards (Travis Love in 2007; Spenser Love in 2012).
The siblings competed with each other all the time, Bubba Love said, and games of FiddleStix — lacrosse with mini sticks that uses tennis balls and hockey goals, with four or five players on a field — became epic backyard battles. But Love used them as a way to get better.
And prove his worth, he said.
“There were some days where I actually performed and I was like, ‘All right. I can do this. This is fun,’” Love said. “They were all playing [lacrosse], and I wanted to be like them. Be able to hang in there. I spent days practicing in my backyard just so that I could actually stick with them and be a part of their games that they played.”
Love said he emulated Spenser the most, perhaps because the brothers shared a similar build. Stew Love noticed it too, when Bubba mimicked Spenser’s moves as much as he could.
“Bubba is much more finesse,” the elder Love said. “plays a little more outside the cyclone than inside.”
Love turned his skills into plenty of success in four years of varsity lacrosse (he came to Westminster after a freshman season at Winters Mill). Love finished his prep career with 303 points (188 goals, 115 assists).
He’s one of only two boys lacrosse players in Carroll history to reach 300 career points (Liberty grad Matt Latham is the leader at 313). And Love has the distinction of collecting the most points in his family.
Ben Love (2007-09) totaled 251 at Winters Mill; Spenser Love (09-12) had 215 for WM.
“Lacrosse has been very good to my family,” Stew Love said. “All my kids were successful, but [Bubba] was special. It was very rewarding to watch. I’m a very proud father.”
Bubba Love’s next lacrosse step is set to take place at Frostburg State University, which is making the transition from Division III to D-II next year. He said he’s looking forward to the challenge of college lacrosse while trying to make a name for himself (Spenser Love starred at Frostburg and graduated in 2016 as the Bobcats’ all-time leading scorer).
The name, however, has always been the driving force.
“I always just thought about my family,” Love said. “We’ve been pretty competitive. I just wanted to beat them.”