College football: Hinceman making most of final season

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2023

Lenoir-Rhyne’s Leah Hinceman


By Mike London

WILSON — Gabe Hinceman weighed 170 pounds, soaking wet, when he was a senior wide receiver at East Rowan in the fall of 2018.

But that was five years ago. Now he’s grown a few more inches to 6-foot-5 and he weighs 205 pounds. He’s still on the lean side for college football, but he’s become an important player in the H-back role for Barton College.

Hinceman’s dad wrestled in college, while his mother’s sports were volleyball and basketball.

“I always wished I’d gotten my dad’s frame because I’d be 230 pounds and look the part of a tight end,” Hinceman said with a laugh. “But I got Mom’s genes, long and lanky. Growing up, I always believed I’d be a basketball player.”

Hinceman’s sister, Leah, also got those lean genes. She’s 6 feet tall and was a Rowan County Player of the Year at East Rowan after making the choice to focus on volleyball, rather than basketball. It worked out. She’s a freshman scholarship volleyball player for a strong Lenoir-Rhyne team. Her coach is former South Rowan star Nicole Barringer.

While they are both in the South Atlantic Conference, having a son playing home games in Wilson, about an hour east of Raleigh, and a daughter playing home games in Hickory has made life a whirlwind this fall for the Hincemans.

Gabe gets the better part of the deal this year.

“They told us that since I’m a senior, that their Saturdays are going to be devoted to Barton football games,” Gabe said. “So I get to see both parents (Lonnie and Kristen) and my younger brother (Isaac) on weekends. But they still try to get to Leah’s volleyball games during the week. They’ve been all over the place to see Lenoir-Rhyne play volleyball.”

Leah isn’t likely to have a huge impact this year, but she usually plays some, and she has contributed kills and digs to wins.

Meanwhile, Gabe’s role is expanding. Barton (5-1) has always been a run-heavy program, but opponents are stacking the box against the Bulldogs and their outstanding running back Jordan Terrell, so they’re throwing more, and Hinceman can catch the ball. He had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in last week’s big win against Newberry.

Hinceman was recruited by Barton head coach Chip Hester, who attended the same church as the Hincemans when he was coaching Catawba. One reason Hinceman signed with Barton was he knew he’d have extra time to mature, add pounds and build muscle as part of Barton’s first recruiting class. That first year Barton played no games. There was nothing but practice, practice and more practice and lots of weightlifting. That scenario gave Hinceman, who is an extra-bright student, a chance to get ahead academically, and he took advantage of it.

But COVID punched everyone in the mouth in 2020, and Hinceman wondered if Barton would ever get back on the field.

“COVID was awful,” Hinceman said. “We had to wear masks in the weight room and in practice and get tested every two weeks. Games kept getting postponed and canceled.”

There was a four-game season.

When the Bulldogs were able to play a normal schedule again, Hinceman carved out a role for himself as a blocking receiver on offense and as a special teams player.

“I was blocking well on returns and I was making some tackles in coverage,” Hinceman said.

He also was catching an occasional pass. His first collegiate touchdown came in a game at Limestone in November 2022.

Academically, Hinceman was ready to graduate last spring, but he still had eligibility and Hester really wanted him to come back for the 2023 season.

“He called me in and asked what my plans were after graduation, and I told him I was still undecided,” Hinceman said. “He said the team could really use my experience on special teams and he appreciated the effort that I always made as a blocker. It made a lot of sense to come back and play one more year. So I added another major and when I graduate in December it will be with a double major in business administration and sports management.”

Hinceman has learned a lot about building houses from his father, but coaching could be in his future. He assisted East Rowan head coach John Fitz over the summer, working with receivers, and really enjoyed that experience.

This has been an exciting year for him. Not only is he getting more targets than he’s ever gotten, Barton is beating good teams. Barton even won a wild game at Davidson, an exciting victory for the program.

On Saturday, Barton played at Lenoir-Rhyne, but the L-R volleyball team was on the road at UVA Wise, so the Hinceman siblings were still far apart.

But the Hincemans are looking forward to Oct. 28. On that day, Barton football plays at Catawba, while Lenoir-Rhyne volleyball plays Catawba in Goodman Gym.

The volleyball match is at 12:30 p.m., while the football game is a 4 p.m., so the Hincemans will get to see Leah and Gabe on the same day, right here in Salisbury.

Leah has gotten permission to stay after the volleyball game so she can watch her brother play football for the first time this season.  Then her parents will drive her back to Hickory on Sunday.

“That’s a day we’re all looking forward to,” Gabe said. “It’s going to be great to have everyone back together.”