A Family Affair: Drew’s Final Game

Drew & Christie GibbsDrew Gibbs with his mom Christie after his knee injury and big win over South.

by Drew Gibbs, Soldotna HS football player

What a ride it has been.  Three weeks ago, it was my last full week of being a Soldotna high football player.  I made the most of it and will remember the times I spent with my brothers for the rest of my life.  The week consisted of film sessions preparing for our state title game against our bitter rivals — the Kenai Kardinals.

I have been apart of a complete dynasty — winning 39 straight games and four consecutive state titles.  I have been named all-state two times, as a sophomore and junior, along with the Offensive Player of the Year after my junior season.  I been working for this my entire life and to see my high school career come to an end is bittersweet.  My chapter as a SoHi player has come to and end.

I could never thank my coaching staff enough for the hard work and dedication they have put into me over the last five years of my life going back to middle school.  Coach Brantley will be a life-long friend, coach, and teacher.  He has been there for me since I was 12 years old.  He is the most hardworking, insane, and caring coach I have ever had.  He’s formed the football player and man I am today.  He’s pushed me harder than anyone has ever pushed me.  He’s been there for me through it all.  Through the hard times and the good times.  I couldn’t thank this man enough and I love him to death and can’t wait for the day he is named the greatest Alaskan coach of all-time.

The final week was more than perfect.  I spent quality time with my brothers.  We played video games, ate food, watched film, Monday and Thursday night football.  We were basically all together 24/7 for the past five months.  These guys are my best friends and it was sad knowing it would never be the same at the end of the season.

The team had a great final week of practice.  The best I had ever seen.  They were focused, executing and performing at high levels.  They were ready to win a state title game.  There was no doubt in my mind they were going to win this game.  They had put to much time and effort into this to lose.  The heart and soul and fire our guys had was unreal.  It was breathtaking to watch.  We drove-up to Anchorage the day before the game, had a team breakfast, went to a football game and just spent quality time together.

On game day, all of the seniors, including myself, were awake bright and early.  Knowing this was the last time we would all be together to play as a family.  I’m not going to lie, it was probably the toughest day I have had in a long time.  I woke up crying, thinking of everything I had worked for and how I wouldn’t be in this game.  I dreamed of being named Gatorade Player of the Year and winning our fourth title.  This phase lasted for a few minutes and then I shook it off and was ready to help my brothers prepare for the championship game.  I had also brought my gear, because earlier in the week, Coach Brantley had told me I was suiting up this week.  It would be my last game and I had never been so happy after he told me that I could wear my uniform for the last time.

Game Time

The guys and I were in the locker room preparing for this fight.  I strapped up my pads, and put my game gear on.  It was hard, looking in the mirror and staring at myself in my gear.  It was just a hard thing to take in.  We took the field and I lightly jogged out.  Tears falling, emotions all over the place as I thought about it being the final time I would be a SoHi football player. During warm-ups, Coach Brantley brought me to the side and told me I would be in the starting lineup when they call us out.  He also told me I would be presenting the trophy to the ASAA, the state’s governing body.

Shortly after that meeting, I was greeted by Kenai head coach Jon Marquez.  We embraced in a hug and he shared kind words and told me if I ever needed any help with recruiting or any tips, he was there for me.  It was a great moment.

The game started.  We started off well jumping to a quick 13-0 lead.  The entire game I was coaching the guys up. Going up and down the sidelines screaming and yelling.  When the guys came off the field I would coach up the backs and linebackers and tell them what they were doing wrong and right.  With seconds to go before halftime, Kenai threw up a a prayer and caught it to cut the lead to 7. We had ourselves a ball game.

Opening the second half, Kenai kicked off the ball to us.  Our return man looked to have a seam and BOOM — fumble.  Kenai picks it up and has the ball at our own 20.  Shortly after that they scored, but once again because of  a bad snap, we held a 1 point lead.  However, from there on we controlled the game.

With two minutes left in the game and facing a 4th & 3, our coach went to ice the game and went for the 1st.  During the timeout the team had brought me in and said “we’re doing this for you Gibbs”.  If we got the first down, we would keep the ball and I knew I would get the opportunity to walk on that field one more time.

Dylan Simons, our quarterback, hikes the ball and pitches it to our back and BAM he finds a seam.  He breaks a tackle and while I was expecting him to go down, he breaks off a 60 yard touchdown run.

The game still had a few ticks left.  Coach Brantley had used his last timeout.  Coach brought me over and gave me a hug and told me he loved me and this season was for me.  He told me to go out there and get the last play of my career.

I trotted out on the field with tears screaming down my face.  The offense huddled-up and we all shared a cry and the team told me this was for me.  They said they had done all this work to get me on the field.  We broke that huddle, lined-up in victory formation, and snapped the ball. I had got the last play I wanted.  After the snap, the Kenai players greeted me and congratulated me.  It was a class act by the opponents, and much respect goes to that group of men.

Being a Soldotna football player has been the greatest accomplishment of my life so far. The program has taught me so much and I have become a better man because of it.  I was surrounded by great men and brothers throughout my four years here. Met lifelong friends, parents, and coaches. I will never be able to describe the feeling of love I have for this program.

And, as for Coach Brantley to let me dress and give me that last play, it will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.  I will always be a Soldonta Star, and it was an honor to put that uniform on for four years and be apart of the greatest Alaskan football program of all-time.

by Trey Gibbs, Drew’s Dad

The Alaska state championship on October 18, 2015 was my son’s (Drew Gibbs) last high school football game — last Soldotna High School Stars game.  It was State Championship game #4 in a row for the program.

The week before the game, I contacted Drew’s coach (Galen Brantley) with a special request.  I asked the coach if it would be okay for Drew to dress-out for the state championship game?  Drew was not fully recovered from his ACL injury, so I wasn’t really sure what Coach Brantley would say.  In this day-and-age of litigation and bureaucracy, I wasn’t too hopeful.  However, my request was immediately granted.

I will be forever thankful to Coach Brantley for many things, but allowing Drew to suit-up, turned out to have more significance than I could have ever imagined.  When my wife and I walked to the fence by the field in pregame warm-ups it was the first time I had seen Drew in his full gear since the day he tore his ACL during the first game of the season.  He looked like a legend of the gridiron!  It made my throat ache to look at him.
As my wife and I finally got to the edge of the field, Drew immediately came over to us.  Drew instantly reached for his mother in what turned out to be an excruciatingly long embrace.

I was already fighting off tears myself — but this was my grieving child.  The pain was immense.  He needed his mom… and his dad.
As I stood there watching them, I was immediately glad Drew had his helmet on.  I knew he was weeping, but I couldn’t look.  If I had been forced to look at his face, I wouldn’t have been able to hold myself together. I hugged my son and told him how proud I was of him.

My wife and I made our way up to the grandstands and began the pregame pleasantries with all of our friends.  Drew was given the honor of
walking the State Championship trophy to the center of the field during the opening ceremony.  Newspaper and television cameras captured his joy has he proudly presented the trophy to the officials.

I stood in the stands watching as the Sohi team captains met the Kenai Kardinals’ captains at midfield for the coin toss.  I could see by Drew’s upbeat reaction that his team won the flip.  I then saw something that lifted my heart and put things into perspective like nothing I had ever seen before.

After the coin toss, as Drew was walking away, I saw the opposing coach, John Marquez, go into a 20 yard trot —  right for Drew.  Coach Marquez then opened his arms and embraced my son.  I can’t explain to you the emotions I felt at that moment, but I’ll try.

As I watched Marquez hug Drew and give him encouraging words, I suddenly realized that even though my son is known as a local superstar high school football player, it wasn’t what most people talked about when meeting me for the first time.  Over the years, most people come up to me to say what a respectful and kind boy Drew is.  Their first impression is that Drew is a very good person.  The championship game hadn’t even started, but I was just silently admiring my son.

My next surprise came only minutes later.  It was time for the starting lineup announcements.  The announcer revved-up and boldly stated:  “Starting for Soldotna… at Running-Back… #28 … Drew Gibbs!!!”  The crowd on both sides of the field went completely wild as my son jogged through the gauntlet of players slapping hands with his teammates.  It was incredible!!  I had no idea!!

The game finally started. I watched as Drew frantically bolstered his teammates with calls, advice, support and praise.  I’m pretty sure he probably barked at a few of his teammates too.  He helped to lead his team at every turn.

The Stars came into the state championship game – not only on a 38 game win streak — but also fighting for a fourth straight state championship title.  The game was incredibly close with Soldotna leading 13-12 going into the 4th quarter.  Soldotna finally pulled away and even added a touchdown with around a minute left to seal the game.

Then came the biggest surprise of the game.  Before the extra point, the crowd started chanting “Drew! Drew! Drew!”  The two head coaches, Brantley and Marquez, met in the middle of the field.

Related: Soldotna’s Galen Brantley talks about Drew Gibbs final game

Soldotna elected not to kick the extra point.  Coach Brantley and Coach Marquez had agreed to let Drew come into the backfield so that Soldotna could kneel on the extra point.  Drew grabbed his helmet and walked toward the end zone to meet his team on the line.  They hugged for a long time before the play.

My son actually got to play in his fourth consecutive state championship victory!!  Everybody in the stands was either crying or cheering.  I was crying!

The Kenai Cardinals actually scored again with less than 30 seconds left in the game. After the kickoff, Soldotna got the ball one last time.  The Stars went into “Victory Formation” as my son stood 10 yards back with his hands on his knees for the last play of the 2015 Alaska State Championship.

After the last play of the game, over half of the opposing team members of the Kenai Cardinals came-up to Drew and hugged him…one after another.  The Sohi coaches, players and staff all rushed in to hug him and congratulate him too.  What a great moment in high school football.  I have never been prouder of Drew than that very moment.

Follow Drew Gibbs on Twitter @DrewGibbs28

Jeff Fisher’s Editor’s Note: Drew Gibbs and his father Trey Gibbs have agreed to write this blog — A Family Affair — for High School Football America throughout the 2015 season.  It will chronicle Drew’s journey back from his injury and his determination to become a college football player.

About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.