The second round of the NHL playoffs will be underway, the Boston Celtics will be attempting to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brewers will be taking on the Cubs in Wrigley Field as national TV options for the sporting public on Thursday night.
All of these events will be overwhelmed by one of the most hypocritical spectacles in American sports, that being NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sharing handshakes and hugs with young men that he soon will be working against to repress their earnings, whether through support of anti-player clauses in contracts, fines or suspensions, or even blackballing a player with a strong social conscience.
Goodell will be out of the picture by Saturday, when the draft moves to daytime and Rounds 4 through 7 are conducted with much less spectacle and a diminished TV audience.
It will be then that Damon Gibson, 22 this week, from rural Beardsley, Minn., (official population 222) will be focused on what’s taking place in Arlington, Texas.
Gibson is what we in the newspaper business have called for decades a “draft hopeful.” What is different in recent times is that if such a prospect is still around when the seventh round starts, he might be better off not being drafted, thus opening up his options when the free-agent deals start immediately.
It has become a race for most teams to sign undrafted free agents. The Vikings rapidly signed 13 in 2017 and six are still on the roster: DLs Tashawn Bower and Dylan Bradley, OT Aviante Collins, CB Horace Richardson, TE Josiah Price and LB Eric Wilson.
Gibson is 6-4 and played last season at around 230 pounds as a wide receiver at Minnesota State Moorhead. He was coming off a junior season in 2016 when he led Division II with 1,459 receiving yards and 140.8 yards per game. He caught 90 passes with 17 touchdowns.
There was more of the same to start 2017, with 53 catches for 635 yards in the first six games. Then he had arthroscopic shoulder surgery and a high ankle sprain and had one more catch for 14 yards, missing all but eight plays of the final four games.
Gibson had a chance to get back in the view of pro scouts with an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 20 in St. Petersburg, Fla. There were 120 players on the two rosters, with Gibson being one of two from Division II.
“There were a lot of players from the major conferences,” Gibson said. “I didn’t feel out of place. I found out that I ‘belonged’ as an athlete.”
Gibson also found out his days as a wideout were over as an NFL prospect. He’s powerful and rangy with excellent hands, but with a 40-yard time between 4.6 and 4.7 seconds …
“They see me as an H-back or a tight end,” Gibson said. “I’ve been doing a lot of lifting. I’m about 240 now.”
As a late-round draft choice or a quickly signed free agent, there’s intrigue with Gibson:
His parents, Heather and Eugene, were divorced. He was living with his mom in Morris and going to school there, but he enjoyed the farm work and an even smaller town, and moved to his dad’s place outside Beardsley.
He was going to be a sophomore at Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley High School. “Nine-Man football … I had never played it,” Gibson said.
Steve Jipson, the co-head coach at CGB with Brian Dahl, said: “Damon was about 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds when he showed up here. Must be farm work. He just kept growing.”
Gibson found amusement in Jipson’s scouting report from those first days at CGB High. “I was 5-foot-11 and around 175 pounds as a sophomore,” he said.
The top four grades at CGB total about 125, and generally there are 20 football players. Gibson landed with a group of outstanding athletes, including the “M & M Boys,” Jason Montonye and Austin Maanum, a pair of running backs that wound up at Concordia (Moorhead).
Gibson became the quarterback in Dahl’s three-back version of the wing T. He would hand it off to one M or the other, or take it around end.
“Damon also could run up the middle,” Jipson said. “His quarterback sneaks were something else.”
The CGB Wolverines won the state Nine-Man title in 2012, overwhelming mighty Grand Meadow 40-22 in the Prep Bowl. They might have won it again the next year, but four of the nine starters were injured for a loss in the sectional.
“I was hoping Damon would wind up as a safety in college,” Jipson said. “I told him, ‘Damon, you could be a great safety.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I like to score touchdowns.’ ”
Jipson laughed and said: “We’re anxious for Damon up here. We’d sure love to see him get drafted.”
Either way, as a late-round pick or via immediate offers as an undrafted free agent, Damon Gibson — among 33 in CGB High’s Class of 2014 — will get his NFL shot.