Linebackers Gibbs, Hicks in heated battle for starting spot
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl likes to say during the spring no jobs are secure.
When it comes to the weak-side linebacker spot, Wyoming's head coach isn't just giving lip service either.
Easton Gibbs, a freshman from Temecula, Calif., is in a heated battle with Charles Hicks with one more week to go in the Cowboys' spring practice season. Hicks started the first five games of 2020. An leg injury in the first quarter against New Mexico forced him to the sidelines for the remainder of Wyoming's COVID-shortened season.
Over the next seven quarters, Gibbs stepped in and tallied 23 tackles. His first start came in the regular season finale at home against Boise State. Even a blinding snow storm couldn't slow down Gibbs, who recorded a career-high 13 tackles.
"They are battling it out," Bohl said Thursday night. "One of the things that I found through the years is nothing brings out good in a man like competition, inner-squad competition."
Gibbs was Wyoming's third-leading tackler last fall with 42, just one behind safety Esaias Gandy. Hicks finished with 27, but added a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Bohl has stated often this spring that he feels confident three linebackers could start for his team: Chad Muma in the middle, Hicks and Gibbs on the outside.
Wyoming utilizes just two linebackers at a time in its Tampa-2 scheme.
Bohl said Gibbs has been dealing with a hip injury through the team's first 11 practices. Gibbs' toughness and resilience has been on full display.
"A lot of guys would find their way to get off the field and he's found his way to stay on the field," Bohl said.
Gibbs is a man of few words. He prefers to let his play speak for him. His speed caught the eyes of his coaches early on. After all, he is a converted safety and quarterback from his high school days. Linebackers coach Aaron Bohl has raved about Gibbs' work ethic and influence on the locker room.
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An old newspaper clipping from the Press-Enterprise starts out with this sentence: "There are football players, there are warriors and there is Easton Gibbs."
It went on to call Gibbs the epitome of a throwback player. That October day back in 2018, Gibbs tossed a couple of touchdown passes, racked up 11 tackles from the secondary and picked off a pass in an 18-12 victory over Murrieta Mesa.
Thursday, Gibbs talked about gaining confidence over the final two games of the 2020 season. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound sledgehammer said it served as proof to himself that he was a Division-I caliber player.
Does it matter to him whether he's penciled in as the starter Sept. 4 when the Cowboys host Montana State?
"It does, yeah," Gibbs said. "Because, I mean, I put in some hard work. At the end of the day, that's everybody's goal. I want to contribute to the team as much as I can. So, either way, I'd love to be the starter on opening day. Either way, I'm here to contribute for this team as much as I can throughout the year."
Work and experience has Gibbs feeling ready for the big stage, but he also credits mentors like Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia for showing him the ropes. It wasn't just how to act -- or react -- on the field either.
"I really got a chance to step back and take a look at what it took to prep for game or how they even just traveled," he said. "(I watched) how they carried themselves to a hotel or just being to meetings on time and stuff like that. Following them definitely helped for me for when I got my chance to go. I definitely wouldn't trade that for anything."
Position battles can be a sensitive topic. One of these guys will be on sideline when the Cowboys defense takes the field for the first time against the Bobcats. Gibbs said that can breed tension, but respect typically shines through.
"We both know we can play," he said. "We've been friends for a long time and come from the same area ... But, at the end of the day, we're all on the same team and we're all trying to get better and help each other."
After the spring game concludes May 8 inside War Memorial Stadium, Bohl said he will release a depth chart. That doesn't mean positions are set in stone. Wyoming will begin fall practice in August and plenty of things can change between now and then. Gibbs said his focus will be on something some could only dream of -- gaining weight.
When Gibbs walked onto campus in 2019, he weighed in at 200 pounds. Now, the roster has him listed at nearly 230.
So, what's his secret?
"They actually make us protein shakes and stuff like that based on how much weight we need to gain," he said with a smile. "So, that's probably the biggest thing that's helped me put on weight. I was really struggling, I could not put on a weight and kept dropping weight. I couldn't think of anything else that pushed me over like that."
The Cowboys will take part in a big scrimmage this Saturday in Laramie. This will be the last shot for some to state their case before the annual spring game takes place in front of fans.
Keep an eye on the outside linebacker spot. Bohl certainly is.
"He's got a lot of ability," Bohl said of Gibbs. "He and Chuck are certainly battling at that position. We have three linebackers who have really game-ready experience. (Gibbs) played really well and and he showed up against Boise State.
"He's showing up this spring, as well."