Sidney Gibbs takes hard lessons learned on the field to Shaw University
Sidney Gibbs has learned a lot about life from football.
The sports he began playing as a youth growing up in Black Mountain has provided him with exhilarating highs and excruciating lows.
Between the sidelines, the powerful back has found that nothing is easy, but if he refuses to stay down he can't be stopped from getting where he’s trying to go.
Gibbs announced on Nov. 29, just over three months after suffering a season-ending injury in the second week of his senior season at Christ School, that he would attend Shaw University and play football for the NCAA Division II Bears.
"This road has never been easy," Gibbs said in a statement declaring his intention to attend the Raleigh college. "And it never will be."
Those words are fitting, considering Gibbs is recovering from a broken fibula and tibia that occurred early in the most important season of his football career. However, even that setback was only the most recent in his rocky relationship with the sport.
"Football has always been something where I've always thought I could do something with it," Gibbs said. "It's not just like a game to me like it is with a lot of people. For me, I love doing it so much, I treat it like a job."
If football has reciprocated that love then it's had an odd way of showing it to Gibbs, who grew up watching film of his uncle Shawn Gibbs establish himself as an all-time great at Owen High School.
"I played when I was 11 and tore my ACL," Sidney said. "I didn't play again until high school."
Sidney's mother Stephanie spent her childhood cheering for her father Stan Gibbs, who was a regional high school football star and longtime player and coach for the Asheville Bears semipro team.
"To me, as a little girl, he might as well have been in the NFL," Stephanie said. "I'm a football fanatic and when Sidney came home from the hospital he had a little football in his car seat with him."
Sidney studied the game from a young age, and at around six played his first organized football in the Reynolds youth league.
"I didn't play again until I was like 9 or 10," he said. "Then I played in the Asheville youth league and I played lineman until like the very end of the year and then they let me run the ball."
He didn't play middle school football and instead returned to the Asheville league for a season when he was in the eighth grade, he said.
"Everybody in Asheville is like my family," he said. "I had a great time playing football there. Being part of that youth league was a great experience."
As a freshman on the junior varsity squad at Owen High School, Sidney watched Jager Gardner eclipse his uncle's school record and waited for his opportunity to contribute on the field. He burst onto the Western North Carolina prep scene in 2015 as a sophomore for the Warhorses.
He wasted no time showing what he was capable of.
Sidney carried the ball 18 times against Enka in his first varsity game, racking up 229 yards and 3 touchdowns. He would go on to score 3 touchdowns in three consecutive weeks later that season before finding his way into the end zone four times that October against Hendersonville.
When the smoke cleared Sidney finished 2015 with 1,750 yards and 19 touchdowns for Owen. His didn't begin to process his success on the field until the season ended.
"I wouldn't say I was shocked, but once I sat down and looked at it I did think 'nobody was really expecting that,'" he said. "I wasn't even expecting that. I came in with the goal to get to 1,000 yards that season."
Sidney committed to working out and getting stronger for his highly anticipated junior season. The sport dealt him another blow in June of 2016 when he suffered a torn ACL in a 7-on-7 scrimmage against North Buncombe.
That injury was devastating," he said. "I worked out so hard that of-season. I spent all my time working out because in my mind that season was the chance for me to show what I could do."
Sidney worked diligently to rehabilitate his knee and watched his younger brother Saevion have a breakout season as a freshman. He couldn't stop thinking about the season that could've been.
"I started looking at how to get that back and going to Christ School gave me that option," he said. "I knew that if I went there I could reclassify as a junior and play two more seasons."
He made the decision to transfer to the Arden school and play for the Greenies.
"My mom really helped instill a work ethic in my children," Stephanie said. "So there was never a doubt in my mind that Sidney would do whatever he needed to do to come back even better."
The expectations he had for himself were immense.
"In my mind I'm thinking I have no choice but to come out and ball," he said. "I came out there to have that opportunity and I didn't want to let anyone down."
The only people disappointed in Sidney's 2017 performance were the defenders tasked with trying to stop him. He rushed for 281 yards on 16 carries in his first season for the Greenies and eclipsed the 300-yard mark twice. His career-high 337 yards came against Charlotte Latin that October when he scored 5 of his team's 6 touchdowns.
Sidney rushed for over 100 yards in every game he played for the Greenies. But a second chance at his junior season wasn't the only thing he got from Christ School.
"The whole Christ School community has been so supportive of me," he said. "I graduated a couple of months ago and I truly appreciate the opportunities they gave me."
Sidney was able to realize a childhood dream and play a full season of high school football with his younger brother blocking for him.
"I waited on that moment for so long," Stephanie said. "When they were little Saevion was always too big to play in youth league, so when I finally got to see them out there it was everything I dreamed it would be. That was a huge moment."
He also found a place where he could grow in his faith.
"God has a plan for me," Sidney said. "I may not know what is in that plan, but I know he has a plan."
Minutes after breaking his leg on what felt like a routine play on Aug. 25, Sidney's growth as a person became apparent to his mother.
"I was just so angry and hurt," she said of his injury. "But he told me it was all part of the plan. He has more faith than anyone I know. I'm so proud of the man he's grown to be."
Inside, however, Sidney wondered what the injury would impact his chance to play college football.
"I started calling the colleges that had been in touch with me the very next day," he said. "Everyone told me they'd have to wait and see, which I understood. But Shaw told me their offer still stood."
Grateful for the opportunity, his choice of college was an easy one, Sidney said.
"Since I started playing football I've had all kinds of people tell me they weren't sure about taking a chance on me," he said. "Sometimes they're worried about my size, or injuries, or whatever. But all you need is one school to take a chance on you."
Sidney began running on his leg months ago. He can frequently be seen running around Black Mountain, and around Lake Tomahawk. He's confident he'll make a full recovery.
"It's just another thing I'll have to prove to people," he said. "And I can't wait to do just that."