Soldotna senior Drew Gibbs was on the field for the final few plays of a fourth-straight medium-schools state football championship in mid-October and Sunday verbally committed to play football at Division II Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Not bad for somebody who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Stars’ first game of the season in mid-August.
Gibbs had the knee fixed by Dr. James Andrews, who has performed knee surgeries on many famous athletes, and said Monday his verbal commitment is just one more step to coming back bigger and better from the setback.
“It’s been a huge life lesson not to take anything for granted, because in a split second it can be taken all away,” he said. “I never thought I could get hurt and miss my entire senior season.
“When you have a love for stuff, you can’t take it for granted. You have to go get it and take every opportunity you can. I learned a lot from my knee injury.”
Soldotna football coach Galen Brantley Jr. said Gibbs attended a camp at Northern State this past summer. He performed so well that coaches called him into the office and offered him a scholarship.
“Right after I tore my ACL, I texted the (Northern State) coaches to let him know,” Gibbs said. “Just 10 minutes later, the head coach was on the phone reoffering the scholarship and letting me know I could keep it.”
That commitment from the coaching staff, plus a great visit to campus last weekend, convinced Gibbs that Northern State was the pick out of about eight total schools that were interested.
Brantley Jr. said that every few years, football players come along for the Peninsula who can play Division II football, although the coach thinks that timeline could accelerate. But he added it takes a lot of passion for the game to play at that level, and it’s that passion that makes Gibbs stand out.
“It’s a huge goal that takes hard work,” said Gibbs, the son of Christie and Trey Gibbs of Soldotna. “I’ve been working out with coach Brantley since I was 12 years old.
“It isn’t a game or something you just go and do. It takes a different mind-set.”
Gibbs was the medium-schools Offensive Player of the Year as a junior. As a sophomore and junior, he was first-team all-state at both outside linebacker and running back.
He had surgery on Sept. 10, but even though he threw himself into rehab and was off crutches in a few weeks, there was no way he was going to play football again for the Stars.
But in a touching scene at the medium-schools final, Brantley Jr. and Kenai Central coach John Marquez met on the field in the final minutes of SoHi’s 33-18 victory and Gibbs was able to get on the field for the final kneeldowns.
“He’s a special young man,” Brantley Jr. said. “As good of a football player as he is, he’s a better person. We’re really pleased he was able to be a part of our program and we wish him the best at Northern State.”
Northern State finished 6-5 last season, but was able to earn a share of the North Division Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship.
Gibbs said schools in the conference are allotted 28 scholarships for football, so the scholarships are typically split among players, but he’s happy with the deal he got.
The SoHi senior also will collect academic money thanks to his 3.53 grade-point average. He said the football team at Northern State excels in academics, with 21 players earning a 4.0 GPA last season and the team having a cumulative GPA of 3.09. Gibbs plans to major in business or criminal justice.
On the field, he will play inside linebacker, with some running back mixed in for short-yardage situations.
Brantley Jr. said Division II football players typically redshirt, and that’s what Gibbs plans on doing.
“I want to get a full year in the weight room, and get the scheme down ready to go,” he said. “I’ll still be practicing, but I won’t have game-day situations. I’ll be easing back into it, so it will be good to have a full year off the knee.”
Gibbs thanked all his coaches for making the scholarship happen, as well as Jason Buckbee, his physical therapist.
“The thing from a football standpoint is he absolutely loves it,” Gibbs said. “He’s one of those kids that can’t live without it.
“I know he’s going to go down and stick it out, and college coaches love surrounding themselves with those types of players.”