Donald Gibson might not always love his assignments, but that hasn't stopped him from performing his jobs better than most of the county's football players.
Take defense. Gibson is a natural safety, one who prefers to roam the field in pass coverage or gain a head of steam before hitting a ball carrier. But Wilde Lake's coaches had Gibson pencilled in as the Wildecats' defensive signal caller and key linebacker in their 5-2 alignment.
"I'm not really big on being an inside linebacker, because I like to take the angle at people [from the safety position]," Gibson says. "When you're an inside linebacker, there's so much stuff going on. You've got to shed blockers so much."
All Gibson has done is lead the county champion Wildecats (9-1) with an average of nine solo tackles a game and provide the foundation for a defense that has allowed only six points in its past seven games.
Neeed him on offense? That doesn't always excite him, yet Gibson produces as a fullback in the Wildecats' wishbone attack. Mostly, he blocks for Mike Green and Nate Cassella, who have combined for 1,475 yards and 23 TDs rushing. Occasionally, he gets to run the ball up the middle. You won't catch Gibson wasting many chances to shine.
"I'm not big on offense, but when I'm in there I try to punish the people who punish me," says Gibson, who has carried 34 times for 216 yards and two TDs. "I play fullback because they need someone who's going to do the job. When I get the ball, I try to make them [the coaches] give it to me again."
Gibson gets a big kick out of his other task. As arguably the county's best punt returner (13.6 average), he has provided Wilde Lake with consistently good field position.
Put that package together, and you have a player without whom Wilde Lake might not be chasing its third straight state championship.
"You can see it in Donald's eyes every week that he really wants to play football," says Mike Harrison, Wilde Lake's defensive coach. "He's definitely lived up to all the expectations that I had for him going into this season. He's been the glue that has held us together."
Gibson's stock rose considerably after the season's second game. During a 22-8 victory over Dundalk, linebacker Paul Knox fractured his arm and has not played since. The loss of Knox, one of the more experienced players on Wilde Lake's defense, was felt the following week when Wilde Lake lost its first game in three years to Southern (AA), 28-27.
Since then, Gibson has matured nicely as the Wildecats' defensive quarterback.
In addition to his 87 solo tackles and 73 assists, he has recorded five sacks, recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes -- one of which he returned 85 yards for a score to spark a 22-0 victory over Oakland Mills. He had 15 tackles in last week's 28-0 victory over Glenelg. Two of them were picture-perfect, open-field takedowns of Glenelg's Paul Brosenne, the league's top rusher.
"I have a nose for the ball, and I pride myself on being around every play," Gibson says. A third-year player, Gibson has learned from the best. Two years ago, Ricky Rowe sparked the Wilde Lake defense from his defensive back position to a state crown. Last year, inside linebacker Brent Guyton led the way, while Gibson came on to be the team's second-leading tackler.
"He [Gibson] is sort of a cross between Brent and Ricky," says Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall. "He can stuff people inside like Brent did and he has that lateral speed that Ricky had. Donald's a very rangy, strong kid."
At 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, Gibson is an impressive athlete. He has been clocked in 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard -- and he bench presses 320 pounds. With a 35-inch vertical leap, he already can dunk a basketball with each hand. But after two years on Wilde Lake's junior varsity, he passed up basketball last year to concentrate on football.
"I've played football since I was in fifth grade. I love it too much to give it up for basketball," says Gibson. "I like the physical contact of football. I haven't gotten my dream hit yet. My dream hit is to make someone's helmet come off. That will come."