By Erik Harris
For The Tribune
Anyone who’s watched a pee wee football season play out will tell you that there were a few kids that really shined brighter.
They’re almost always running backs on offense and linebackers on defense. No one on the field wants to tackle or be tackled by these little giants, which make the offensive line look scrawny and the defensive backs a little clumsy.
The only nerves that haunt these gifted few arise at mandatory weigh-ins. As long as they make weight, they are free to play the game they love and dominate the Saturday afternoon gridiron.
Most of these kids excel throughout park ball, no matter what the sport. They probably enjoy some level of success in junior high as well. But for many of them, high school comes and their shoes surprisingly keep fitting. Their mom no longer has to buy them a new wardrobe every few months and their teammates simply catch up to them.
For Pinson Valley junior running back Nick Gibson, that day of prideful acceptance never came. Instead, he just got better and better thanks to his mother Toneka, father Mondeno and grandmother Gwen Goodman.
The three of them raised Gibson to be a hard-working, humble young man. Gibson’s parents brought one thing to the table while Goodman brought another, and the result has been pretty special.
Put in the work
It’s a fall day in Alabama and young Gibson is back home from Pinson Elementary School. The ever nerve-racking weigh-in day is quickly approaching, which means that Mondeno is sure to take him for a little workout.
The two would go to the lake, but not for a relaxing dip in the cool water. Nick would cover himself with a trash bag and sprint circles around the tempting water under the watchful eyes of his father. Under the command of Mondeno, the exhausted youngster would continue cutting through the humid air until he sweat out enough to make the park ball weigh-in. This taught him the sacrifice it takes to be the best.
“I would always think about making weight at school and I would have to run around the lake with a trash bag on so I could play,” Gibson said. “I had to go a day without eating and they tried to give me water pills one time, but my grandma wouldn’t let me take it.”
Gibson credits his dad for being the first to slap him on the helmet and point out his mistakes on the field. But the loving father who always drove Gibson to and from the park for practice was also the first to pat him on the back and congratulate his success.
“Back in pee wee my dad used to be hard on me,” Gibson said. “My dad always drove me to practice, made sure that I got there on time. To me and my dad, (football) meant the world.”
It’s a Monday morning at Pinson Valley High School and everything is operating as usual until 17-year-old Gibson walks through the doors. The junior was three days removed from setting the school’s single-game record for rushing yards (447) against Mortimer Jordan.
The incredible feat landed Gibson fifth all-time in Alabama high school football history and he wasn’t even aware of his achievements. He thought that he simply played well and posted impressive numbers. It wasn’t until the celebratory high fives not only from classmates, but also from the faculty and staff, that the levelheaded rusher knew of the records.
The love didn’t stop flowing at him when he left the halls, either. Upon arrival at his football locker, he discovered a towering stack of letters from just about every big-time college program in the country. The size of the stack drew oohs and ahhs from teammates.
Even with all the attention and recognition, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound back has managed to stay humble. He wasn’t thinking, “Look at me and how great I am” when he was so warmly welcomed Monday morning. Instead, the record-holding back thought to himself, “Man, I really don’t want to let these people down.” In this day of athletes putting themselves on pedestals and hunting down the spotlight, Gibson is a breath of fresh air.
But why is he the way he is? What makes this player different when it comes to humility? For the answer, look no further than Grandma Goodman.
Since he was a toddler in his San Francisco 49ers uniform, Goodman has been there as a supporting grandmother. While his parents taught him toughness and how to have a strong work ethic, Goodman schooled him to always be thankful for what he’s got and to take nothing for granted.
The strict grandmother sees that she is always there to support her grandsons on game day. Since Gibson’s older brother Mondeno (named after their father) was a seventh-grader, Goodman has never missed a game. She knows how important it is for her grandsons to be able to look up into the stand and see family support.
“Since his brother entered seventh grade I’ve made all of their games,” Goodman said. “Monday nights, Thursday nights, Friday nights, I’ve not missed any. I think it’s important that they can look in the stands and see support and know that someone has sacrificed and cared enough for you to travel to wherever you are to give you that support, and I was the same way with their dad. I never missed his games.”
Goodman is clearly the disciplinarian that sees to it that the success her grandson has achieved on the field and all the attention he gets for his talents don’t change who he is. She always preaches on doing the right thing, and it certainly seems to be working.
It was a beautiful September evening under the lights of Willie Adams Stadium and the Indians had just earned a 2-0 start to the 2013 season thanks in large part to Gibson’s stellar performance against Class 5A, Region 6 foe Mortimer Jordan.
The sweat-stained junior spoke to media at midfield and announced that he would like to be the top running back in the country by season’s end. While earning the right to call himself the best ball carrier in the nation is an ambitious goal, he’s already earned multiple statewide high school football awards and drawn the attention of elite college football programs.
The 2014 prospect is rated as a four-star player by Rivals.com and already has scholarship offers from top programs such as Florida State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas. According to Gibson, the Bulldogs are currently pushing harder than the others to secure his commitment.
But without the strong support system at home, he might not be turning any heads at the next level. With the lessons those three taught him, his future is bright.