McALLEN — McAllen High senior Trace Gagne, a defensive anchor and three-year varsity starter for the Bulldogs at middle linebacker, has signed a letter of intent to continue his academic and football career at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.

“It’s been a long journey. I started playing football when I was about 8 years old in second grade. I never really thought I was going to do much with it, though. I was always passionate, always trying to work harder than everyone and always trying to be the best that I could be,” Gagne said. “I worked hard when I found out that Texas Lutheran was giving me a shot and they were really pushing for me. I was excited and I never thought it would come true. It was really emotional for me and I had offers from other schools, but I made that decision because Texas Lutheran looked awesome. I’m ready to just go out there and be the best I can be as a leader, a teammate and a student. I just want to be the best I can be.”

Gagne becomes the third senior athlete from District 30-6A to sign with TLU’s football program, joining PSJA High outside linebacker Jayden Arrington and PSJA North offensive lineman Frankie Saucedo as part of Texas Lutheran head football coach Ricky Matt’s first recruiting class.

Matt, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach in mid-December, and his coaching staff have made quite the impression in Year 1 on the recruiting trail with Arrington, Gagne and Saucedo each mentioning TLU’s personable approach as a factor in their respective decisions.

“My recruiting coordinator, (assistant) coach (Jake) Tingle from Texas Lutheran, was always messaging me asking me how I was doing before I even decided and before they even offered me and before I went up there for a visit. He was always asking me how my day was going, how my family was doing, and I think that was something that completely separated Texas Lutheran from all the other schools I had been talking to.”

When Gagne gets to Texas Lutheran, however, little will change.

In Seguin he’ll still be a Bulldog, he’ll still play in purple and gold and he’ll remain a relentlessly aggressive defender in the middle of the team’s front seven.

Gagne earned a reputation as a fearless run-stuffer during his three seasons at McHi, but started out as an undersized defender. As a sophomore, he worked his way into a starting role at outside linebacker midseason for the Bulldogs and helped the team secure a bi-district playoff berth.

“I was real small, but my coaches worked with me and they knew I had the intelligence and watched film and always knew what was going on, so they moved me to outside linebacker,” he said. “I started making an impact about halfway through the season once I started to start a little bit. I had some people that I looked up to on the team like Gunner Henderson that really kind of mentored me and helped me understand what it’s like to be a leader.”

McAllen High senior linebacker Trace Gagne signs his national letter of intent to play college football at Texas Lutheran, a DIII school in Seguin, surrounded by McHi football coaches at a signing ceremony in April at his home in McAllen. Courtesy photo.

That offseason and the summer that followed Gagne dedicated himself to being a full-time gym rat and film junkie, always training and preparing for the return of the fall.

“My junior year was really a development year for me. I had gained about 30 pounds and I started making an impact early on, and I think everybody saw that,” he said. “I would watch film every night and break down the games and try to see what I could do to help my team out. I wouldn’t just watch me, I would watch the defensive line, the other linebackers, the DBs, safeties and corners. I just wanted to help those guys out as much as I can.”

Gagne’s hard work paid off as he earned an honorable mention all-district selection at middle linebacker after a junior season in which he tallied 73 tackles as one of McHi’s defensive captains.

In his senior season, Gagne developed into a full-fledged attack dog at the middle linebacker spot, charging downhill and chomping at the bit to defend each yard of turf. He helped the Bulldogs establish a reputation as one of the Rio Grande Valley’s toughest and stingiest defenses.

“Early on during spring ball, I think about seven or eight of us who were already returning had been playing years on varsity together. This year our chemistry was completely unmatched by any other team around,” Gagne said. “We communicated well. We ran a tight defense and a lot of our philosophies were like attack and get to the ball. Do your assignment and do your 1/11.

“I think we stayed pretty true to that and as a unit we were communicating all the time,” he added. “We always just looked forward to the next play and the next play and the next one. We never really dwelled too much on what happened the previous play, even though a lot of our plays were pretty effective and with whatever we ran, we got to the ball as best and quick as we could.”

In its first season under head coach Patrick Shelby, the McHi defense rated as the best unit against the pass (134.0 yards per game) in District 30-6A and held four of its first six opponents to 14 points or less.

Gagne earned 30-6A First Team All-District recognition for his role in plugging running lanes up the middle and antagonizing opposing quarterbacks with his pass rush pressure from the outside.

The Bulldogs senior was also picked to play on the 2020 West Valley all-star team by the RGV Coaches Association.

amcculloch@themonitor.com