UNION TWP. — Early on in summer workouts, Wheeler football coach Adam Hudak knew he had something special in the backfield.
In a scrimmage against Guerin Catholic, freshman running back Trey Gibson took a sweep, hit the hole like a bolt of lightning and left defenders in the dust for a touchdown.
“He was gone," Hudak said. "It was like, 'Yeah, he's gonna be OK.'”
Gibson is among the Region's most productive freshmen this season with 340 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 61 carries. He won Wheeler's starting job over the summer, when he was still just 14 years old.
He recently turned 15 but looks and acts far older. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Gibson has good size for the position in the Greater South Shore Conference, and he has the athletic ability to match it. Gibson has lived in the weight room over the past year and has built up his speed, strength and agility since breaking his leg at age 11.
Wheeler senior quarterback Bryce Catherman noticed Gibson during track season last spring and realized he could help the team immediately. When Gibson excelled early in summer practices, he redoubled his efforts to make sure he seized his opportunity.
“I knew the talent was there and I didn't want to lose it,” Gibson said. “So I put all my time into the weight room and making myself the best player I can be.”
Hudak said he saw Gibson at Wheeler's fieldhouse even on off days this summer, working on getting faster and stronger. That work ethic won teammates over, as Catherman said Gibson “doesn't really act much like a freshman.”
Initially, the degree of Gibson's success surprised Hudak. Even up in mid-August, Hudak couldn't be completely sure about his young back. But when the first Friday night of the season arrived, Gibson showed he isn't afraid of contact.
Gibson racked up 113 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against Calumet on Sept. 6, and he hasn't felt jitters since his first carry in the season opener. Catherman said Gibson could still work on finding holes and refining his jukes, but he's off to a good start.
“I respect him because of how hard he runs," Catherman said. "His speed is the best thing about him, I think, right now. … He plays with passion.”
This week brings a new level of opponent, though. Gibson, who also plays linebacker, will see perhaps the GSSC's top team and player this week when the Bearcats visit Times No. 7 Boone Grove and explosive tailback Brae'ton Vann.
There'll be plenty of pressure in a big Porter County rivalry game against the undefeated Wolves, but Gibson hasn't let the bright lights and packed stands faze him yet. In fact, it's one of his favorite parts of football.
“Probably just the adrenaline of that perfect spin move, that perfect juke and breaking it down the sidelines. That's the real reason I play: that feeling,” Gibson said. “When you make that move, the crowd's going crazy. It's awesome.”