PULLMAN – The pass is too high, at least for the normal college wide receiver. Brandon Gibson hauls it in anyway.
It’s a scorching day during the Washington State Cougars’ fall camp, and Gibson is just warming up.
Another play is called. Gibson takes his spot on the outside. He quietly stares ahead. His fingers twitch with anticipation.
Off with the snap, Gibson zig-zags a few steps into his route, immediately putting the defensive back on his heels. Another sharp cut, and Gibson is by the first man, in full gallop downfield.
Help is on the way. A safety converges on the ball – and Gibson – in an attempt to score a big stop for the defense.
No such luck. An outstretched Gibson snares the low, wide pass and stays out of harm’s way to move the chains.
He is the crimson-colored blur of WSU’s offense this season, the Pacific-10 Conference’s receiving leader from a year ago who is expected to be an even bigger contributor in 2008.
Of course, that is what he expects from himself, too.
“I think I’m living the dream most kids don’t get,” said Gibson, now a senior. “Every Saturday, kids come out and cheer for me, and that is one of the most exciting feelings out there.
“College football is the best sport out there. Why leave it early?”
The hands are infallible. The routes are pinpoint. And at WSU, the experience and athleticism of Gibson in the passing game are unmatched.
Perhaps what Gibson doesn’t get enough credit for is his mental approach. Whether it is deciding on a college, or studying his craft, or researching the possibility of leaving for the NFL a year early, the Rogers High School product has done it one way – thoroughly.
“He thinks things out. He may not tell you what is going on in his head, like with friends, adults or people in the family, but he’s made good choices,” said Marlene Williams, his mother.
It started with picking WSU. Gibson was hampered in high school by a run-first offense, then an ankle injury during his senior season.
Most of his family wanted Gibson to give Washington a look. That included his mother, who grew up in Seattle, graduated from Garfield High School and eventually played volleyball for the Huskies.
Even Gibson had a liking for the Huskies. But the UW was going through a coaching change. On the flip side, the Cougars were the first school to offer Gibson a scholarship, just months after finishing second in the Pac-10 and defeating Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
“They were the second-best team behind USC on the West Coast,” Brandon Gibson said. “I’m thinking at the time, if I got there, I’ll have fun and we’ll get to more bowl games.”
Gibson was WSU’s lone receiver recruit in the 2005 class. Midway through his freshman season, he was already getting playing time, starting five Pac-10 games.
In each season, Gibson’s role has expanded and his production has increased. His 1,180 receiving yards last season not only led the Pac-10, it set a school record.
Barring injury or a major letdown, Gibson should leave WSU with the record for career receiving yards (he’s 621 yards short of Jason Hill’s record of 2,704 yards, set in 2006).
WSU receivers coach Mike Levenseller, one of the school’s all-time receiving greats himself, saw the upside Gibson had from the first day he went to WSU’s summer camp as a high school senior.
“You get them in here, mold them and make them efficient and see if they have that next-level, whatever-it-is ability to make plays,” Levenseller said. “If they do, you let those guys be creative. Brandon is one of the few guys I’ve had that I’ve turned it over to him and said, ‘Here it is, just check in with me once in a while.’
“Sometimes, you ask him what he’s trying to do on a route, or a move. He may have the right answer. If not, you steer him back and have him think about something in a different way. He’s taken all of that.”
Then there’s the NFL.
He’s had that thought in the back of his mind since the first day he arrived at WSU.
He told his father, Brodrick Sr., that if he had a big junior season, he’d really look into leaving early.
Minutes after catching the game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds remaining in WSU’s 42-35 Apple Cup win over the Huskies in December, Gibson said he was filling out paperwork for the 2007 NFL Draft.
Underclassmen fill out questionnaires and send game tape to a special NFL advisory board for evaluation, and ultimately receive a projected draft grade based on what round the player likely would be selected.
Last year, more than 75 players, including Gibson, formally requested to be evaluated and graded.
“We had a family meeting, which included his father and stepdad,” Marlene Gibson said. “We talked if he didn’t get a grade (higher than third round) that he wasn’t going to go.”
Amid all of WSU’s coaching woes – Bill Doba resigned a few days after the Apple Cup victory – and infighting among key players, many figured Gibson would leave regardless of his projected grade.
But Gibson was intent on adhering to a strict plan. He knew the NFL Draft was devoid of sure-fire, first-round receivers, and he also knew underclassman receivers such as California’s DeSean Jackson and Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelly would likely go before him.
“He really researched it,” Levenseller said. He wasn’t going to go just because it was an ego thing.”
Finally, in January, the WSU playmaker got a phone call from the NFL. He was projected to go somewhere between the fourth and fifth rounds.
“The most disappointing thing was what my expectations were,” Gibson said. “I viewed myself as an upper-round guy, and thought I could be a second-rounder and above.
“I got my grade back, and I was hurt. I was with Husain (Abdullah, ex-WSU safety), and he said it wasn’t worth it for me to go, and that I should go back for one more year and show how good I was.”
Days later, Gibson withdrew his name from consideration, announcing he would return to WSU for his senior season.
Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, called Gibson’s decision “intelligent and responsible.”
“Brandon carefully weighed his options ... and there were a lot of reasons he could have left,” Rang said. “But now, for one, I think he’ll get better. For two, this isn’t a great senior crop of receivers, and I do think he’ll up his stock.
“And also, he’ll end up being invited to an East-West Shrine Game or Senior Bowl (where scouts will see him), where juniors don’t have that chance.”
What was once all-consuming has finally settled down. Gibson said he’s relieved that he knows what his draft fate likely would have been if he came out early, and doesn’t regret his choice to come back to WSU.
“That’s the thing, I’m not a money-hungry guy. I understand it’s going to be there,” Gibson said. “But even now, some people don’t know me. I’m an intellectual guy. I’m not slow. I can think a little bit. Overall, I took my time in making that decision. I needed to get it out of the way.”
Gibson is now proceeding full-speed ahead, mindful of a solitary thought.
“Now,” he said with a wry smile, “I get to show I’m the most well-rounded receiver in the country.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442