And much like it was passed down to them from Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey a few years ago, the 2015 season will usher in a new era, so to speak, for the West Virginia offense. With a new starting quarterback in place and two of the top pass catchers in school history departing for what appear to be bright futures in the NFL, it’s time for someone new to step up.
Gibson would like to be the one who has next.
That will come with a fair amount of pressure, of course. It’s never easy to be the ones who are expected to put up the big numbers, and it can be especially tough to make that rise up the ranks as quickly as they might have to. But they don’t mind that pressure this spring and they’re running with it into the remainder of the offseason.
“I’m embracing it,” Gibson said. “Coach Holgorsen coaches great receivers. He knows what he’s doing. It’s a thing where, when I do something and he snaps at me a little bit, I know it’s not coming from a place of criticizing just to do it. He’s trying to make me better.
“It’s all coming from someone who has been there. He’s done this with Kev and all those guys, but it’s because he knew how good they could be and he wanted them to be great.”
The path to get to this point hasn’t been easy for Gibson, who led WVU with four catches for 84 yards in last week’s Gold-Blue Spring Game - including a 48-yard connection with Skyler Howard on a deep ball that set the Mountaineers up for their lone touchdown.
Coming in as a highly sought-after prospect out of high school, Gibson landed at WVU with hopes and expectations to one day be another great receiver to flourish in Dana Holgorsen’s offense like Bailey, Austin, Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon. But not long after getting on campus, Gibson’s future at West Virginia started to look unclear. He didn’t know if he was even going to be able to suit up in a Mountaineer uniform.
Gibson was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and was kept away from all team activities for both the fall and spring semesters.
He watched games from the stands. He had to work out on his own. All he was really allowed to do was go to class. There were moments he didn’t feel like he was part of the team.
“The toughest part was just not knowing what was going to happen,” Gibson said. “I couldn’t just pick up the phone and call the NCAA about it and see what was going on or what I could do to fix it. I just had to sit and wait until they said I could go.”
It’s almost become cliche to talk about these things in this light, but it was a period of time that made Gibson reflect a bit on the game that brought him this far and how much it meant to him. From that moment on he made the decision to dedicate himself even more, push himself a little harder. It’s the type of moment one gets when they see that something really can be taken away from them quickly without being able to see it coming.
Gibson got to return to the field last season for his redshirt freshman season and went through some ups and downs, bookended by the low moments at the beginning of the season and the higher moments at the end. And he could feel the shift, particularly in his confidence and his level of comfort in the offense in the few months between WVU’s season opener against Alabama - when he dropped a pass that could have potentially shifted the momentum heavily into the Mountaineers’ favor - to the Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M in which he made a big play and looked like someone ready to keep rolling and start contributing more in the Mountaineer pass attack.
“(The end of the year) gave me momentum,” Gibson said. “My confidence from the Alabama game, when Coach Holgorsen told me to go into the game, compared to the Texas A&M game was totally different. I needed that full season to practice and get more confident.”
And by watching Kevin White a year ago, Gibson got a first-hand look at what perseverance and faith in the process can do. He’s going to try to emulate those things, stepping up and taking over as the confident, go-to target that makes life difficult for opposing secondaries.
“When you have that confidence and you feel good about yourself and what you’re doing, nobody can stop you,” Gibson said. “That’s what Kevin had, that’s why he was so great. He knew he was going to beat you, and that’s what I’m trying to keep building to by the time the season starts.
“I want to be that guy. I think I’m ready.”