E.A. Sports Today

Glorious return

Gibbs scored a touchdown in his return Friday, expected to be a key two-way player in Saks’ playoff run

Saks RB/NG T.J. Gibbs supported his teammates earlier this season from the sideline as he recovered from an elbow injury. He returned Friday night and scored a touchdown. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The play might have been dismissed from the stands as just another touchdown in a game that was decided a long time before, but it was pretty significant for T.J. Gibbs.

The junior running back went eight yards for Saks’ final touchdown in a 51-12 rout of Weaver that completed the Wildcats’ second 10-0 regular season in five years.

Why it mattered is Gibbs was playing for the first time since dislocating his right elbow in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Wellborn.

“I was really excited because I didn’t think I was going to play, for real,” Gibbs said. “The doctor said it could come back out at any time and I’d have to have surgery. When I scored I was happy. I didn’t think I was going to run the ball and I didn’t even think I was going to get a touchdown this season.”

He wasn’t the only one happy. The Saks coaches had found another two-way player and special teams regular just in time for the playoffs. The Wildcats open the Class 4A playoffs at home Friday against Westminster Christian (6-4).

Gibbs is one of five running backs the Wildcats have, making it their deepest position. He had a good offseason and even caught a pass on third down in the spring game. They were going to use him on offense this year to block and run a little, to go along with putting him on the defensive line and special teams, and then he got hurt.

When the injury occurred Gibbs was just starting to get comfortable in the rotation at nose as a quick complement to the bigger guys on the defensive front. He was having what coach Jonathan Miller called “a fantastic game” on defense and special teams when he tried to brace himself falling backwards and when the elbow popped it looked as if his promising season was over before it really got started.

“I felt bad for T.J. because there he was playing in the middle of this fantastic game and all of a sudden the doctor tells me it’s going to be a while before he gets back,” Miller said. “I was happy we won the game, but I was upset for T.J. and our team because he was playing so well.”

Gibbs was determined to get back on the field before the season ended so his father, who missed the opener, could watch him play. He was allowed to start non-contact drills during the Oneonta week (Game 8) and was cleared for full contact the Monday before the Weaver game.

He played defense and special teams in the first half against the Bearcats, then got his shot with the offense in the second.

Offensive coordinator Michael Easley was “determined” to get the running back in the end zone Friday. The first time Gibbs carried the ball, in the final minute of the third quarter, he got outside and went 25 yards. He scored his first varsity touchdown – with his dad in the stands — midway through the fourth quarter and finished with 43 yards on five carries.

“From a coach’s perspective, to have a kid that pretty much misses almost his entire junior season to be able to score and play a big role in our success is good for me to see,” Miller said. “For him to not to have a season would be a total waste.”

And now he’s going to be a key two-way player in the playoffs.

T.J. Gibbs (20) runs through two Russellville defenders during Saks’ spring game. On the cover, Gibbs tries to get past two Russellville linemen. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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