Sidney Gibbs’ worn-out cleats

Fred McCormick

It was around this time last year that the Swannanoa Valley began to realize that things were going to be drastically different for the Owen Warhorse football team. On the heels of an emotional 12-1 season, the team was losing a longtime coach - and arguably the greatest player in the program’s history.

The departure of Jager Gardner left a giant void on the team that would require someone special to emerge. But first-year coach Nathan Padgett, who had his own pair of giant shoes to fill, believes that “special player” is exactly how you describe Sidney Gibbs.

Gibbs was the fourth-leading rusher in the region last season, with 1,750 yards. His 19 rushing touchdowns placed him in the top 10 in that category as well. But perhaps even more impressively, Gibbbs did it all in just 10 games, on only 193 carries, as a sophomore.

And he did it with 149 yards more than Gardner recorded during his sophomore year in a career that would end with him becoming the area’s all-time leading rusher.

As astonishing Gibbs’ numbers seem, they are hardly a surprise to Padgett, who went to high school with Gibbs’ uncle, Shawn Gibbs, himself a stellar football player.

Doing his student teaching in 2007 at Black Mountain Primary, Padgett saw Sidney Gibbs playing with other children and assumed that the athletic bloodline was strong.

“Even then you could see that he had special talent,” Padgett said. “He comes from a long history of great athletes.”

The rest of the Swannanoa Valley would have to wait until last August to find out just how extraordinarily talented Gibbs is. They got to see it during the running back’s first game - a 229-yard performance against Enka.

Gibbs said recently that he felt a lot of pressure at first.

“But a lot of the seniors on the team, especially DeMarcus (Harper), told me that I had to have the mentality that nobody could stop,” he said. “And I went into that game with that mentality and felt like I had a pretty good game.”

The game was one of four last season in which Gibbs eclipsed the 200-yard mark, one that gave Padgett and his staff a glimpse of how special their star player was.

“He has great vision,” Padgett said. “He knows where to run, and he has the football instincts to know how to find where the opening is. You can’t teach that as a coach.”

The ability to read the blocks in front of him enabled Gibbs to have a remarkably consistent season (he gained more than 100 yards in all but two games). Padgett said that the quiet leadership demonstrated by Gibbs each week was one of the most impressive things about the young back.

“His work ethic is just unbelievable,” the coach said.

As one of the youngest players on a team in the midst of a losing season, Gibbs didn’t assume a leadership role easily.

“It’s a little difficult because you don’t want guys thinking that you’re being cocky,” he said. “I realized as the season went on that I should have probably stepped up and been a little more vocal.”

Padgett heard Gibbs’ voice loud and clear during the Warhorses’ televised game against Hendersonville late in the season. The game proved to be one of the best of the season for Gibbs, who ran for 268 yards and scored a season-high four touchdowns.

“We were backed up in our own territory, and it was fourth and 2 or 3 (yards), and I called for a fake punt to our sidelines,” Padgett said. “When Hendersonville lined up, they shaded to that side because I think they knew we were going to do something. So I was ready to punt. Sidney looked right at me and was like ‘coach, give me the ball, I can get the first down,’ and he turned around and ran for a like a 67-yard touchdown.”

But it is a different game entirely that stands out to Gibbs as the highlight of his season.

“Our win against Avery was one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “We really played like a team, and it’s so fun when we all play together.”

Padgett is eager to see the Warhorses return to the field next season and improve upon a tough 2015. But he feels fortunate knowing that it will be with one of the best running backs in WNC by his side.

As Gibbs prepares to build upon his stellar 2015, he is prepared to lead by example.

“I feel like this was a real growing year for us,” he said. “We’ve all seen what it’s like to lose, and now we know that we don’t want that again. We’re coming to win next year.”