Deonte Gibson, Cats’ Ohioans prepare to face their hometown team


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Sophomore Deonte Gibson closes in for a sack. Gibson was a member of a Division I State Championship team in his home state of Ohio.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Where Deonte Gibson comes from, you root against Ohio State at your own peril.

Gibson, a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman for Northwestern, grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, where scarlet and gray are practically official colors. And if the pass-rusher was not already predisposed to cheering for the Buckeyes as a kid, he soon found reason to.

Gibson’s older brother, Nate Oliver, enrolled at Ohio State in 2007 and after redshirting his freshman year, played four seasons at defensive back and on special teams for the Buckeyes.

“I was a big fan of my brother, pretty much,” Gibson said. “That’s my favorite football player.”

Naturally, the pass-rusher said, the status and proximity of Ohio State’s program was appealing to him in high school, but when the Buckeyes didn’t express much interest, he happily picked NU.

“I knew that how recruiting things go, that you might not always get where you want to go,” Gibson said. “Here, they wanted me more, and I absolutely believe I fit in here better.”

If the No. 16 Cats (4-0) upset No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) on Saturday night at Ryan Field, it will be with help from a whole cast of Ohioans. NU’s roster boasts 18 players from the Buckeye State, including three of the team’s best defensive players — redshirt senior defensive end Tyler Scott, redshirt sophomore cornerback Nick VanHoose and junior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo.

Ariguzo, NU’s leading tackler on the season, lives in Gahanna, Ohio, one town east of Columbus, and went to high school roughly six miles from the Ohio State campus. Still, he said Buckeye football wasn’t a big part of his life.

“I watched some of their games,” he said. “I wasn’t too much of a big college football fan back in the day.”

NU and Ohio State have not met on the football field since 2008, meaning no current Cats player has faced off against the Buckeyes. But neither Ariguzo nor Gibson said they consider playing against their hometown team all that special.

“It only means a little bit extra to me just because it’s Big Ten play,” Ariguzo said. “This is one step toward our goal of being Big Ten champions. We’ve got to go 1-0 in the Big Ten.”

Meanwhile Gibson, who has three tackles for loss and a sack this season playing situationally for the Cats, said he feels no need to prove himself against the team that once declined to recruit him.

“I don’t want it to be a thing that because I’m from Ohio I have this chip on my shoulder against Ohio State,” he said. “It’s more about ‘us versus them’ instead of ‘Ohio versus Ohio State.”

Nevertheless, the Cats’ Ohioans recognize the Homecoming weekend match-up as some sort of reverse homecoming for them. More than 75 Ohio State players — more than half the team — come from Ohio, and NU’s Buckeye-bred boys might be staring across the line at some familiar faces, including former Ohio Mr. Football finalist, quarterback Braxton Miller.

“We kind of joke about that. We say everybody is from Ohio, and it’s going to be awkward playing against people you’ve been playing against when you were younger,” Gibson said. “It reminds you of Saturday night games in high school, playing against guys that were known as the top in the state. But now it’s just on a bigger stage, on a bigger level.”

Most fans in Ohio will have no trouble deciding which team to pull for, but one uniquely situated native has a tough decision. With half a decade at one school and a family member at the other, who will Gibson’s brother root for this weekend?

“I would hope he’s rooting for me,” Gibson says, laughing nervously. “It’s a funny sibling rivalry. It’s like a conflict in the house, but I’m pretty sure he’s rooting for me.“

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