Most defensive linemen dread bending down into a stance to run wind sprints over and over again. Quinton Gibson fantasized about those moments.
“I used to think about what it would be like, being able to run as fast as I can with my feet pointing straight ahead,” Gibson said. “At first I was scared, but now I don’t think about it. I just run.”
You won’t find Gibson, a Zachary High School senior-to-be, on anybody’s Who’s Who list of top recruits. The Broncos know who Gibson is and what he means to them.
The 17-year-old was born with a birth defect known as clubfoot. His right foot turned at a severe angle instead of pointing straight ahead.
Gibson said his parents, Michelle and Gregory, have raised him well. What happened over the past 13 months, including corrective surgery, shows a modern-day village raised Gibson to where he is now — participating in preseason football drills with the Broncos.
Later this month, Gibson will learn whether he’ll be cleared to play football this fall. But football is only part of Gibson’s story.
“Later on in life, things will be better for me because I had this done,” Gibson said. “And I know that.”
Michelle Gibson adds, “He loves football, but this is about so much more than that.”
Gibson became a man for two sports seasons despite his birth defect at a young age. He grew up loving football and the New Orleans Saints, along with baseball and the San Francisco Giants.
He played baseball at the Zachary Youth Park. Once he began high school, Gibson sought out new roles. He became a manager for the Broncos baseball team, which allowed him to continue to throw and take a few swings at practice.
As a sophomore, football coach Neil Weiner recruited Gibson to be part of the Broncos’ film crew. Before spring practice in 2012, Gibson told Weiner he wanted to do more than watch and film; he wanted to play.
“He’s a great kid … so genuine,” Weiner said. “We lost a tight game and Quinton’s the one who’s almost in tears, and he’s on the film crew. He loved what we were doing, and we fell in love with him.
“When he came to me and said he wanted to play football, I wasn’t sure about it. He gave it all he had, but it was tough. He never complained.”
John Prevost came to Zachary practices to watch his own son and wound up watching Gibson.
“One day I watched (Gibson) walking up and down the steps (at the Zachary practice facility). His right foot was bent at a severe angle and he had so much trouble climbing those steps,” Prevost said. “It was tough for him to move and that was hard for me, being a parent myself, to watch. When the players ran sprints, he fell so far behind, but he never gave up.
“I thought to myself, this doesn’t make sense. With all the doctors and foundations they have around here, there ought to be some way to help this kid. This was about a quality of life and his future, not football. I asked (Zachary assistant coach) Chris (Carrier) and (Principal Wes Watts) if I could make some calls.”
Prevost did just that. He talked to Gibson’s parents and found out a couple of procedures done during their son’s middle school years didn’t help much. Doctors told the Gibsons they were out of options at that time.
Prevost didn’t believe that. He enlisted Dr. John Loupe, who once performed surgery on him, to see Gibson and take X-rays. Loupe signed the forms that got Gibson on track to have corrective surgery at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Shreveport last summer.
Prevost also talked to local Shriner Gerard Ruth. That’s when Baton Rouge’s Acacia Shrine Center sprung into action.
“The Shriners have three missions, and one of them is to have fun,” Ruth said. “Most people associate us with that because they see us in parades.
“We also support military veterans and their causes. Our other mission is to help children, ages from babies up to 18 years old, who can’t help themselves get the medical care and treatment they need.”
Acacia’s transportation coordinator, Dewitt Watts, and another Shriner took the Gibson family and Prevost to Shreveport for an appointment with doctors days later.
High school football players dream of being a college commitment. Shriners doctors had another kind of commitment in mind for Gibson.
The physicians explained surgery options. In return, they wanted the 5-foot-11, 380-pound Gibson to prove he was committed to the life-altering process by losing some weight.
Prevost and Zachary High got Moreau Physical Therapy to help. Through Moreau, Gibson began seeing a dietitian and also did some physical therapy. Gibson shed 70 pounds before his Jan. 2 surgery.
“It wasn’t that they wouldn’t do the surgery if Quinton didn’t lose weight,” Gregory Gibson said. “The doctors wanted Quinton to give them something, a commitment to change his life. Life is about give and take and giving back.”
Carrier also was part of the process. Carrier played in the East-West Shrine Bowl as an LSU player. The former Tigers safety understood the charity and process. Gibson ate specially prepared meals each day in Carrier’s classroom.
“He’s probably not going to play college football or be a major contributor for us in any sport,” Carrier said of Gibson. “He’s a kid who came out and gave it his all and everybody loved him for his effort. We wanted to be there for him.”
Gibson said doctors took bone from around his hip and implanted it below the knee to help straighten his leg. A plate and six screws were installed at the ankle.
Ankle swelling kept Gibson in the hospital longer than expected. When he returned to school, Zachary’s football and baseball players greeted him with hugs and high-fives. Gibson remained in a wheelchair through most of the spring. A cast covered his leg from his ankle almost to his hip.
Almost every day, members of the Zachary baseball team came to pick Gibson up at his home and bring bring him home after practice.
By the time Zachary played Catholic High in the Class 5A baseball title game, Gibson was out on the field playing the role of a typical manager.
The bone graft left two parallel scars about the size of a standard pencil on Gibson’s right shin. Doctors cleared him to do light workouts. The thought of trying to sprint all-out scared Gibson at first. Now he embraces those chances. He vows to lose some weight he put back on since surgery.
“He’s quicker and faster,” teammate and friend Stephen Babin said. “In my opinion, he’s happier now and he believes in himself. That’s really important.”
Gibson carries a 2.9 grade point average and wants to be an accountant some day. He lists Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana-Lafayette and Baton Rouge Community College as possible college options.
“Before, there were people who didn’t look at me,” Gibson said. “Now, I think people see me for who I am and not just my leg.
“My teammates have done that all along. If I need a ride or I want to go work out after practice, there are several guys I can count on.”
Michelle and Greg Gibson also count their many blessings.
“The first time Mr. Prevost met with us, I cried,” Michelle Gibson said. “To have so many people out there willing to help my son and our family was overwhelming. It’s been an amazing journey.”
Gregory Gibson adds, “There are a lot of bad things out there in the world. This proves that there is good in the world and people willing to lend a hand. Our family is blessed.”
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