When East Central Community College football coach Ken Karcher recruits players, he tells them at the school can be a stepping stone.
For Antonio Gibson, that was certainly the case. Gibson went from being a lightly recruited high school player to being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins with the No. 66 overall pick.
Gibson made the most of his opportunity at East Central, signing with Memphis and playing two years for the Tigers. After a junior year in which he didn’t see much playing time, Gibson had a breakout senior year for the Tigers, who went 12-2 and won the AAC Championship before losing to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.
In his senior year, Gibson showed his versatility by playing both receiver and running back for the Tigers and racked up 1,749 all-purpose yards, which ranked 16th in the NCAA this year.
Gibson, who is 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, was lightly recruited out of high school because of his grades but Karcher got onto him early.
“Every year, we are always looking in the nearby states for athletes who fit what we are doing,” Gibson said. “I have always recruited Atlanta and made contact with one of the guys I know there and he said he had a good football player and we were able to recruit Antonio to our place. He didn’t have the grades to get a Division I offer and had to go JUCO. At the time, we were really the only ones on him. He felt good about him and he felt good about us. It was a good fit.”
In his first year at East Central, Gibson played wide receiver where he led the Warriors with 29 receptions and 563 yards with nine TDs and was a second team All-MACJC selection. In his second year, Gibson split time at running back and receiver where he caught 21 passes for 308 yards and four TDs and was named a first team All-MACJC pick.
“I think we knew coming in day one that he had a chance to be a special player,” Karcher said. “We felt early on that he had lots of ability. He had a good freshman year and the more he continued to grow, the more I thought his future would be as a running back/wide receiver. And honestly, I think he will be a better pro than he was a college player and that’s what all of the scouts I have talked to think as well. I think his upside is down the road.”
At Memphis, Gibson played in all 14 games but on had six catches for 99 yards and two TDs but his action was limited when playing behind 2019 NFL draftees Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard. But as a senior at Memphis, Gibson prospered as he split time at running back, wide receiver and also returned kicks where he tallied 1,749 all-purpose yards.
Gibson will be a chance to be a multi-threat player for the Redskins under new head coach Ron Rivera, who liked what he saw in the former East Central standout.
“He is very impressive young man, a very impressive football player,” Rivera said on an interview posted on Twitter. “He is a guy that we feel can come in and made an impact early on, whether it be on special teams or on the offensive side of the ball as a receiver or a runner. This is a multi-talented young man.”
Rivera said he hopes that Gibson can follow the path set by one of Rivera’s former players in Carolina.
“We did see him in the mold of a Christian McCaffery,” Rivera said. “His versatility of being able to line up at multiple positions was very impressive. This is a young man that can do a lot of things. He is a very dynamic player. Very intriguing player, just excited to have him on the team. He has a complete game but if there is anything he has to work on, it would be his pass blocking out of the backfield. He is a try-hard guy and very physical football player.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Gibson was among the most elusive players in all of college football last season. Between his 38 receptions and his 33 carries on offense, he forced a missed tackle 40.7 percent of the time. Conventional wisdom dictates that a 25 percent forced missed tackle rate is the average.
“Most people my size don’t move as fast — and I’m not saying everybody — because I’m seeing plenty move faster or fast,” Gibson told Doug Farrar with the USA Today. “It’s just the size and what I’m able to do. I feel like you could line me up with skinny receivers, and I would be able to make the same moves or run just as fast as them. I feel like people don’t know how to adjust sometimes to seeing that speed and a big body, you know, to make cuts like that. So when they try to come to my legs, or they come to me with the arm tackle … if you come to me with some little boy stuff, you know I’m looking to break it.”
After being drafted, Gibson talked with former Mississippi State and Washington Redskin great Fred Smoot, who asked him if he wanted to be referred to as a wide receiver or a running back.
“I want to be referred to as a weapon,” Gibson told Smoot.
Gibson was asked to describe himself as a person and a player.
“A machine,” Gibson told Farrar. “Somebody who’s selfless, you know. If it’s special teams they need me at, offense, running back, receiver, wherever. I won’t think twice to do it for the team, I always put the team first. I want to say that’s what helped me a lot, especially in Memphis, especially with that first year. You know, I had to accept a different road than what I’m accustomed to. … I did special teams and all, and I didn’t think twice of it. I just put a chip on my shoulder, and I’m going to always put the team first. I’m going to work hard, and when I step on the field and get the ball in my hands, it’s going to be incredible. So they’re going to get a playmaker and somebody who is going to work.”
For Karcher and the Warrior coaching staff, Gibson being drafted is another recruiting tool for the school.
“Any time you have a guy make it to the highest level, it’s a credit to your program,” Karcher said. “We have young men that climb the business ladder and some that become preachers. There are multiple ways to make to be on top. This does help in recruiting. There are multiple opportunities. East Central is a stepping stone to your future. Antonio is fortunate to get this opportunity. The East Central football family is very excited for Antonio and his family as he takes his next step with the Washington Redskins.”