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It's been a roller-coaster ride for Josh Gurnaby as he enters his senior season for the Black Hills State University football team.

The Yellow Jacket free safety has admitted to his ups and downs with the program, even to the point where he felt like football wasn't in the cards.

But just as he felt his desire to play the game slipping away, it told him that he had plenty left to give to football.

Gurnaby left the program and returned home to the Sacramento, California, area after his freshman season, following the demoralizing 0-11 2015 campaign.

That winless season shot his confidence as a player. It made him question if the game was for him. 

He said he had never felt anything like that before.

"I decided it wasn't for me and I had a little mid-life crisis and decided that I didn't want to do it any more," Gurnaby said last week after a BHSU spring practice session. "I went home and had some time to think about it. Working Saturdays at mid-day, at lunch, knowing that these guys were out here playing football, it was hard on me. I had some time to think about it and really gathered myself. It was something that I really wanted to finish out and get back here."

His absence made him appreciate the game that much more.

"It made me respect just the opportunity to be out here and do this with such great guys," he said. "The main reason I came back was for my friends, my teammates. I felt like I left them in the dust a little bit."

The Yellow Jackets welcomed Gurnaby back and he'll look to close his career on a high note after coming off his best season in college football.

Last season Gurnaby finished with 87 total tackles — 44 solo stops and 43 assisted tackles — along with two interceptions and five pass breakups. In 30 games overall, he has 103 solo tackles, 87 assisted tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups.

With his return, he has established himself as one of the team's leaders on defense, vocally, and with his play on the field.

"The word that describes Josh is passion. He is a very passionate player, a guy who wears everything on his sleeve," BHSU coach John Reiners said. "What he brings is a lot of intensity, a lot of physically to our defense, and he has become a great leader for us. I'm very excited about what he is going to do this year."

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It's a role that he said he isn't necessarily used to — it is new to him. But, he said he'll have a lot of help in leading the team.

"We have had a lot of young guys step up and have taken responsibility for their roles," he said. "That has helped me out on the top of that. I just need to keep these guys on the straight edge."

On the field, intensity is his edge.

"It is key just for the game of football, to play intense, very fast, and be very aggressive," said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Gurnaby.

The Jackets look to bounce back from last season's 3-8 record (2-8 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference).

Gurnaby said they are coming together as the team as they are scheduled to wrap the spring Saturday (weather permitting) with the annual Spring Game.

"We have good leaders on defense. It has been good so far. We have been pushing each other so far, it has been a lot of fun," Gurnaby said.

Communication is another key for the BHSU defense to bounce back from some ups and downs last season.

"We talk about it a lot. Just the whole defense being synced in as one," he said. "We have a lot of older leaders and that helps with that process. We have a great group of guys and a lot of us will be here during the summer working. We're all good leaders on this team."

An exercise science major, Gurnaby said he liked the physicality of the field, but he won't likely go into it after graduation as he plans to be a firefighter.

"It just sparked my interest," he said of being a firefighter. "It has a lot of the same camaraderie as we have on the football team. You have to work as a team, you have the same objective."

Family service runs in the family. His father, Scott Gurnaby, is a police officer, and his older sister, Marissa, is just finishing nursing school.

"There is something about protect and serve. I love it," he said with a grin.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.