Football: Injuries fail to slow down redshirt freshman defensive lineman

Redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson has rehabbed from his knee and elbow injuries to become an integral part of the NU defensive line.

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Redshirt freshman defensive end Deonte Gibson has rehabbed from his knee and elbow injuries to become an integral part of the NU defensive line.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

Deonte Gibson was back to 100 percent and ready to play his first college football game.

After taking a redshirt season last year to rehabilitate from a torn ACL he suffered during his senior year of high school, Gibson returned to the practice field in a regular uniform in the spring. Gibson impressed the coaching staff during spring practices with his performance and was poised to be a breakout star on the Northwestern defensive line as part of the rotation at defensive end. However, in the season opener against Syracuse on Sept. 1, Gibson left the game early with a dislocated elbow.

“It’s devastating, but when you sign up for a game like football you understand that injuries are a dime a dozen,” he said. “You know something’s always going to happen to you, so you got to be prepared and play every play like it’s your last.”

Despite the added setback in his career, Gibson did not stop pushing to get back on the field and help the Wildcats. He came back from the elbow dislocation in about a week, suiting up for practice just nine days after the injury occurred. Dislocated elbows normally require multiple weeks to heal properly, but Gibson played in NU’s 22-13 win over Boston College with a brace on his elbow only two weeks removed from the dislocation.

He still wears the brace, but Gibson said once he gets on the field he forgets about his injuries. His mentor on the team, senior defensive end Quentin Williams, said Gibson is one of the hardest workers on the team and added that although he didn’t think Gibson would be back within a week, he wasn’t surprised by the redshirt freshman gutting it out.

“Te’s one of the most motivated guys I know,” Williams said. “He’s tough as nails and his toughness is a testament to the way he plays. We didn’t expect him to be playing out there, but he’s a tough kid, and that’s huge for him.”

Gibson may not have a lot of playing experience, but his maturity and wisdom extends well beyond his years. Williams said it is difficult sometimes to remember Gibson is only a freshman and hasn’t been around the team for multiple years.

“Whenever people bring up Te’s a freshman and that he’s playing his first year as a college football player, it’s kind of weird to us,” Williams said. “We honestly consider him kind of a veteran, someone who’s been out there a lot. Sometimes he’ll have a few lapses and we’ll be like, ‘I’m surprised you didn’t know that. We ran this defense two years ago,’ but he’s only been here a year. He’s playing like a veteran.”

The veteran leadership has been a crucial step in Gibson’s developmental process. The three upperclassmen on the defensive line have done an excellent job at teaching both Gibson and freshman Dean Lowry how to play defensive end in the Big Ten, Gibson said. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said the dialogue between the younger guys and the veterans have allowed the freshmen to make huge strides.

The upperclassmen all had positive things to say about how Gibson has progressed so far this season, and Gibson returned the compliment by giving them the credit.

“They’ve shown me how to play at this level,” Gibson said. “They’re great mentors and they know the game. They’ve been here for a while. They just take us by the hand and guide us to where we need to be.”

Even though Gibson may not be having the kind of productivity he would like on the field, his coaches see him making an impact on the game in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Last week against Minnesota, Gibson bull rushed past the offensive line and took down quarterback Max Shortell for what looked like his first sack of the season. However, Gibson got ahold of the face mask during the tackle and was flagged for a penalty that negated the sack.

It may not have counted, but it was a play that showed Gibson has the talent to compete at the Big Ten level. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he is happy with how Gibson has progressed this season and has seen him become more active in the play.

“He’s gotten more and more comfortable playing,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m really proud of the way he’s playing right now and the sky’s the limit as he moves forward in his career.”