The Sidney Gibbs legacy continues at Owen

Fred McCormick

Watching Owen running back Sidney Gibbs follow his blockers, plant his foot and choose a lane is a lot like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. The music stops, however, when defenders try to tackle the 5-feet-9, 180-pound ball carrier.

Gibbs was formally introduced to the Western North Carolina football world Aug. 21, when he ran for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Enka Jets in Hominy Valley. But last week, when he took the field for his second varsity game as starting running back for the Warhorses, Gibbs needed no introduction in the Swannanoa Valley.

In 1992, Gibbs’s uncle Shawn ensured the Gibbs name would live on in local football lore when he ran for 1,000 yards - and into history as Owen’s leading rusher - before ever playing a conference opponent. At the conclusion of his remarkable senior season, Shawn Gibbs was named the player of the year in WNC.

The two Owen backs represent just two generations of what Stan Gibbs - father to Shawn and grandfather to Sidney - describes as a “football family.”

Stan’s high school football career unfolded in the era of segregation, just over 30 miles away in Canton at what was then known as Reynolds High School (it consolidated into Pisgah High School in 1966).

“I started playing football at Reynolds when I was in the eighth grade. I was on the varsity team,” Stan recalled. “Black teams played black teams, and white teams played white teams.”

Just as his son and grandson would later, Stan played running back and defensive back before graduating in 1962.

His career in the sport was a lengthy one. Stan went on to play football for N.C. Central University and then played with and coached the Asheville Bears (now Grizzlies), in a career that spanned three decades. He was enshrined in the minor league football hall of fame in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2005.

Older brother Hillard Gibbs watched the infancy of Stan’s illustrious career at Reynolds.

“As his career progressed in high school, he was a very hard, agile runner for the times,” Hillard said. “He reminded me of Jim Brown and Gale Sayers. He had Jim Brown’s power and Gale Sayers’ moves. He was on top of his game.”

Hillard, who played at Reynolds before his brother, believes Stan’s tough mental approach to football was the thing that set him apart from other athletes.

“He had that real desire to run through you no matter what it took,” Hillard said. Stan’s childhood helping his family make ends meet likely played a role in his athletic development, his brother said.

“We liked to tell people we were so poor that we had to run chicken and rabbits down to eat. So we all gained a lot of speed that way,” Hillard said.

Younger brother Phil was a sophomore quarterback during Stan’s senior season at Reynolds. He saw his brother as the team’s leader. “He was very social,” Phil said, “but all that stopped whenever we stepped on the field. He just wanted to win.”

Sidney shares that competitiveness, said Stan, whose daughter is Sidney’s mother.

Owen hit the jackpot in the early 1990s when Stan’s son Shawn was ringing up numbers at Shuford Field.

“I had a football in my crib, literally,” Shawn said. “From the time I can remember anything, I remember being in love with football. I give my dad a lot of credit though, because he didn’t force it on me.”

Shawn does not recall his father missing a practice or a game during a career that culminated with him leading the Warhorses to their first perfect record in nearly 30 years. Not only did Shawn follow in his father’s footsteps, he was also the next in a long line of great Owen runners.

“Bobby (Daugherty) was my favorite growing up,” Shawn said. “When I was in middle school I got a chance to see Al Ellis play, and he went off to play at Appalachian State. During my freshman year, there was Donald (Lytle) and then there was Chico (Kemp) my sophomore year.”

The parallels between Shawn and his nephew Sidney extend beyond the last name they share. Sidney has also been passed the torch from his predecessor, Jager Gardner.

Gardner broke Shawn’s career rushing record at Owen last season, becoming the leading rusher in WNC history. Much like he did, Shawn believes Sidney benefitted from watching a dominant runner play every week.

“Watching my uncle’s film when I was younger really helped me learn how to see the hole and hit it hard. Same thing with Jager,” Sidney said. “He (Jager) showed me that you pick a direction and just run until the whistle blows. I also learned a lot about how this offense works from watching him.”

Shawn spent time coaching running backs at Grambling State University as well as at N.C. Central, his and his father’s alma mater. He is now the running backs coach at North Carolina A&T State University.

Shawn believes that Sidney, who he describes as a “more physical” back than he was, has the opportunity to build upon the Gibbs football legacy.

“I definitely think he’s capable of becoming the all-time leading rusher at Owen, and possibly Western North Carolina” Shawn said. “Possibly one of the top 10 or 15 in the state’s history.”

Sidney, who considers himself fortunate to carry on his family’s legacy and the Warhorse tradition of backfield talent, has his sights set on a different target.

“This school has so much tradition, and the Valley is so loyal,” he said. “I just want to help this team deliver a state championship before I’m done.”