LEESBURG, Fla.- The 2020 season started with a broken down boat for the Jacksonville State University team of Zeke Gossett and Lucas Smith, but closed out with some hardware for the trophy case.
On Wednesday night during the tournament briefing for the 2020 Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops at the Harris Chain of Lakes, Gossett and Smith were awarded the 2020 Team of the Year after accumulating 988 points throughout the four-event regular season, beating second-place Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier, who finished runner-up for the second consecutive year with 952 points.
Along with two trophies, Gossett and Smith added a $2,500 check plus a Minn Kota Ultrex and a Humminbird Solix Unit thanks to Johnson Outdoors.
“It’s very special with it being my last year for sure,” Gossett said. “We were thinking about it the other day, we fished in four different seasons. So it was pretty cool to win in a heck of a year. We had so many cool stories. We broke down the first tournament at Toledo and made a 60 mile one-way run at Lake Cumberland. It’s just awesome to hold the Team of the Year trophy because we worked really hard for it.
“There were so many stories, when I see this trophy in my room I’m going to think about every one of them.”
Smith, who started the season as a freshman, and Gossett began the season at opposite ends of their college careers and faced adversity immediately, breaking down on the first day of the first tournament of the season at Toledo Bend. The duo didn’t panic, however, catching 16 pounds on Day 1 to save their tournament and ultimately their season with a 20th-place finish.
Gossett and Smith followed Toledo Bend with a 9th-place finish at Smith Lake in February and then, after a long layoff, finished 5th at Lake Hartwell in August, giving them the lead in Team of the Year heading into the final stop of the year at Lake Cumberland last month.
After a 6-pound, 60th-place Day 1 showing and Minor and Lanier leading the event, Gossett and Smith made the decision to make a 120-mile run on Day 2 and it paid off, jumping into the Top 12 cut and securing the Team of the Year title unofficially.
“It was just crazy,” Gossett said. “We just had an open mind every tournament and we fished very free this year. We had to take some chances, like at the last event with the 60-mile (one way) run. They talk about in the Elite Series for the AOY’s, you can’t have a bad day. We had bad days, but we would make it up.”
Through his first season as a college angler, Smith said he has learned a lot from Gossett during the ups and downs of the season.
“I’ve learned so many things from Zeke over this year,” he said. “Keeping an open mind was really important for me. In high school I would just get stuck in a rut and wouldn’t move around as much. This year, I learned you have to make those calls for sure.”
Not only did the 2020 season provide on the water adversity, but plenty of non-fishing adversity as well. Their Jacksonville State teammate Jarred Jones underwent major heart surgery during the COVID-19 layoff and cancer treatment after the Lake Hartwell tournament. Then, when Gossett returned home from Cumberland, his mother, Laura, and father, Curtis, tested positive for COVID-19 and were hospitalized. For four days, Curtis, who also has asthma, was on a ventilator and life support due to complications with the disease.
“It was terrible,” Gossett said. “One day they tried to take the tube out and it didn’t work. The next day, by the grace of God, his numbers went up to where he was strong enough to get the tube out. I just want to thank everyone for the prayers. Him and mom are on the uptrend and doing a lot better.”
With family members and teammates now recovering, Gossett and Smith are ready to try and claim more hardware with a victory at the National Championship starting Thursday. During practice, the duo has found some quality fish in the 2 to 3-pound range, but haven’t come across any true giants yet.
If they finish in the Top 4, they qualify for the College Bracket held on Gossett’s home waters of Lay Lake.
“This is our first time seeing these lakes and I’m not real familiar with Florida fishing,” Gossett said. “I fish Okeechobee about five years ago, but I like this lake a little bit more because it has more bank grass. You can catch good fish going down the bank and that’s what we do. I’m feeling pretty confident, but we have not caught a fish over 3-and-a-half pounds. I think we will eventually get a big bite if we keep doing what we are doing.”