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Column: Next season, watch out for KU walk-on lineman Gibson

January 3, 2014

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For Kansas State, Jordy Nelson outran Aqib Talib and the wind on his way to one of his 122 receptions, one of his 11 touchdown catches, and 68 of his 1,606 receiving yards as a senior in 2007. Defensive lineman Ryan Mueller and safety Ty Zimmerman earned first-team All-Big 12 honors this season.

For Michigan State, Kyler Elsworth was one of the two linebackers who flew over the line to make the fourth-down stop that vaulted the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory against favored Stanford.

Nelson, Mueller, Zimmerman and Elsworth all entered school as walk-ons and never will exit the memory banks of supporters of their schools.

Kansas University needs to do a better job in that area, but Connor Embree did perform well in 2013 at the most difficult job in football, returning punts. And a big walk-on generated a loud buzz during his first season on campus.

Coach Charlie Weis, former offensive line coach Tim Grunhard and fifth-year senior center Gavin Howard all singled out Joe Gibson, who spent his first season out of Rockhurst High as a red-shirt center.

“He’s the real deal, now,” Grunhard said of Gibson with a few weeks remaining in the season. Howard stabilized the center position midway through the season. Mike Smithburg couldn’t get his snaps down in the spring game and moved to guard. Pat Lewandowski had similar troubles and shifted to tackle. Dylan Admire also had a tough time at center.

Howard’s eligibility is used up, but he insists there is no need to panic.

“Gibson, man, he’s a walk-on, but he’s not talented like a walk-on,” Howard said. “He’s really a scholarship-level talent.”

Gibson measured at 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds coming into the season, but has packed on so much muscle that he’s close to 300 pounds. Jacob Bragg, a 6-4, 308-pound center from Nacogdoches, Texas, has made a verbal commitment to attend KU. Junior college signee Keyon Haughton of Georgia Military has experience at guard and center.

Don’t look for Gibson’s twin, Thomas, to walk onto the football team to join the competition. Also a student at KU, Thomas is 100-some pounds lighter and about a half-foot shorter than Joe.

You can bet the twins’ Uncle Harry will be in the stands for all of Joe’s home games. Why should the next four years be any different? Harry and Becky Gibson are mainstays at KU football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball games.

Harry, a standout at Wyandotte High, started three seasons for the KU basketball team (1962-64) and as a senior was a captain, named to the five-member All-Academic Big 12 team, and received the Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen Award, given to KU’s senior academic athlete of the year.

Paul Gibson, the twins’ father, is 16 years younger than his brother Harry, who, by the way, looks as if he could still whip half the student body in a game of one-on-one.

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