Mission Accomplished: Torrance Gibson's Maturation On, Off the Field Evident to All

By Jeremy Birmingham on December 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm
Torrance Gibson's career is coming into focus.

"He was about to screw up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Torrance Gibson was on the verge of wasting an enormous amount of talent. His off-the-field personality, a byproduct of social media fame and recruiting "stars", had overtaken his dominant athleticism as his most recognizable feature. He was about to become a footnote in the annals of high school recruiting, an illustration of how too much too fast can become nothing almost overnight.

"I think it is an extremely difficult thing for a young man to deal with," American Heritage offensive coordinator Mario Perez told Eleven Warriors. "That explosion of popularity and the avalanche of media requests, etc. It takes time to be able to maneuver your way through that recruiting storm."

Ohio State, Auburn, Tennessee, Miami, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma — any and almost all of the big boys of college football — had been calling for Gibson to lead their offense. The calls slowed, the interest waned and Gibson's future, once almost a certain success story, saw vagaries he'd never expected.

"I think Oregon helped him recognize that talent alone is not the answer."

In early July Gibson headed to Oregon for Nike's The Opening, enlisted as an athlete but hell-bent on performing in the Elite 11 quarterback competition. He did so, but inconsistencies in delivery and accuracy only served to underscore the whispers that he was fooling himself about a future at quarterback. Gibson insisted that he'd in no way line up at wide receiver that week, emphasizing the perception that he was a stubborn, spoiled athlete. 

He eventually acquiesced, competing at wide receiver in 7-on-7 drills in Beaverton as the quarterback reps were limited. Although he performed admirably on a sore ankle during the week-long camp, people dogged Gibson's effort and maturity. The writing, they said, was on the wall and he was not going to change his stripes and it'd cost him. Talent like his was irrelevant, they said, because no one was going to put up with the drama and theatrics that surrounded him.

Michael Conrad, an assistant coach at American Heritage High School, says that Gibson was aware of the risks he was taking, even if he wasn't acknowledging it publicly. 

"His public face," Conrad told 11W. "Would give you the image that he didn't care, but in a coach's office? I think he realized he was about to screw up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Perez gives credit to The Opening and the experience in Oregon for helping Gibson. All his life the 6-foot-4, 200 pound athlete had just out-talented people, paying less attention to the nuances of football than maybe he should have. That changed under the bright Nike lights.

"I think Oregon helped him recognize that talent alone is not the answer," Perez said of his quarterback. "There are plenty of talented kids out there. Hard work is the key. He committed himself to working harder after Oregon."

That would soon become evident to recruiting fans all over the country.

Gibson throws for Urban Meyer at Friday Night Lights
Gibson worked out at FNL to prove himself.

It was mid-July and Gibson had decided he'd make a long-discussed visit to Ohio State, which was preparing to host their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ohio Stadium. The camp, one of the country's premiere university-hosted events, would serve as an excellent backdrop for the superstar talent to check out Columbus and get to know Urban Meyer, a coach he revered highly, a bit better.

Something happened in Columbus that Friday night in late July that wasn't expected: Gibson showed up in shorts and cut-off t-shirt and came ready to work for Meyer and his quarterback coach Tom Herman. 

When he returned to Fort Lauderdale, something had changed, Conrad said. While he won't specifically give credit to Ohio State or Urban Meyer, it's hard to ignore the coincidental timing of Gibson's sudden maturation. 

"I think around mid-July, early August," Conrad said about the timing of Gibson's growth. "He seemed thrilled when practice started and getting on the field to just play football. I don't know if (Meyer) had a specific message, but Torrance definitely puts Meyer on a pedestal."

The changes were noticeable early and often in his senior season, one that had its fair share of adversity. 

"One of the parallels between life and football," Conrad said, "is that you will invariably incur adversity. It's how you handle it that matters. Last year, (Gibson) was a bit more high-strung and if he got emotional it was kind of like a little kid. He's better now. If he does get rattled, he overcomes it much more quickly than before. I think that is partly because of age and the realization that he's going to be on a huge stage — in the Horseshoe — very shortly.

"I think just talking to (Georgia freshmen and former Patriots) Isaiah (McKenzie) and Sony (Michel) and hearing stories of what it's like in big-time football sped up the maturation as well."

Gibson and American Heritage played what amounted to a murderer's row of a high school schedule; the fourth toughest schedule throughout the country. His senior year numbers were not that of a top-ranked quarterback as opposing defenses focused on keeping Gibson from beating them.

He played well, but he had games he'd like back and occasionally felt he could have done more. Still he paid no mind to his diminishing numbers as the team improved throughout the year.

None of the questions about Gibson weigh heavier than why his father ABANDONED him and his mother alone years ago.

"He handled (the offense changing) very well," Conrad said. "He was excited about Kyshaun Bryan's development. Last year, if a kid dropped a pass or ran the wrong route, if a kid got called for holding on a completed pass play, he'd go completely nuts. This year, he understands that it happens, and his teammate will get him back the next play. He is motivated all the time. He does not have consecutive bad outings."

Perez agrees, but he realizes that Gibson's path to greatness isn't close to done.

"(Torrance) is unselfish," he said. "He was afraid to take over games and had issues overcoming adversity. He's improved throughout the year. It's a work in progress but something we've worked on throughout the year. Be confident; don't be afraid to be great."

Gibson's mother, Joann Seymour, said she sees the changes in her son as well.

"His last year of high school," Seymour shared. "That was the big moment, when it changed. Torrance has become a young man who wants to be a leader. He wants to encourage others. You can be anything you want if you stay humble and keep focused and follow your dreams."

Torrance Gibson's name is widely known. His athletic talents are prodigious to those who write about him; borderline ridiculous to those who've had to face him. Still, for Gibson himself, the dreams of a big future have been clouded by questions in the past. None of those questions weigh heavier than why his father left him and his mother alone years ago.

"Not being able to see my dad every day, that keeps me grounded. Every time I think about that it motivates me because I watch my mom struggle every day," Gibson told 11W earlier this year.

"Sometimes it brings tears in my eyes, I've texted him a few times, sometimes I've gotten a response, sometimes I don't. I never know what to expect. I can't just sit there and cry, I have to man up and reach my full potential in life and playing football is going to help me get there, regardless of who is there for me. I always hope he is doing okay and one day we can just have even one more day together, but until that day comes I have to still keep fighting on and playing the game of football to make the best of things for my mom and myself."

That one more day together came, unexpectedly, this past Friday as Gibson was preparing for the 5A state championships in Florida. His father, long absent, watched his son — not a five-star talent — play football live for the first time in years.

Gibson at wide receiver in Oregon
Gibson begrudgingly suited up at wide receiver in Oregon, and still his athletic ability helped him stand out.

"Man, I had tears of joy," Gibson told 11W about the reunion. "I had not seen him in five-to-six years. That's a moment I won't ever forget, it meant the world to me. Seeing him in the stands, looking at me and seeing me do what I love; smiling with my team? That meant the world to me."

After that amount of time apart, the easy thing to do, to feel, would be resentment, bitterness, or angst. Not for Gibson, not anymore.

"My mom always told me not to hate him because he hasn't been around," Gibson continued. "Instead, love him because you only have one dad. Yeah, some days I felt angry at the world cause I see everyone with their dad; laughing or joking, or their dad is at every game. Knowing that I never had that? That is something I've always wanted to do with my dad, but I've got to just be grateful for what I have now."

Whether or not that relationship with his father is permanently rekindled is yet to be seen. What Gibson knows is that for one day he got to feel like things were normal. He'd love for that to be the new normal, the every day. Until then, he's happy his father took the time and gave him some good, old-fashioned fatherly advice.

"I think we'll have a better relationship," Gibson concluded. "Time will tell. He basically said that I should go to Ohio State if I believe that's the right fit for me. He reminded me that people will come after me because of my name or what I can become, and I need to not get caught up in the fame and the girls and all that."

"I can't wait to be in Columbus."

Sometimes, for a parent, all you can do is be there. Gibson's father watched as his son won his second straight championship without needing to be the "star." He watched as Gibson, leading his team with a maturity he didn't possess the last time he saw him, overcame adversity — yes, much of it self-imposed — that a year ago would have swallowed him up.

The next step for Gibson will be his biggest challenge yet. This week, he learned his future college coach, Tom Herman, would no longer be his future college coach. For the old Gibson, that might've derailed him or thrown him off his course. Not anymore.

"I talked to (Tom) Herman," Gibson said. "I told him I heard he's leaving for Columbus to go to Houston. I told him I understand if he has to go, but I wish he'd stay because I want to win a national championship with him."

Of course, that means Gibson — who has been rumored to be considering other visits — has to be at Ohio State also.

"A couple of schools are asking me, wanting me to come visit," the lefty quarterback said. "I'm still thinking about it. But really, I'm working on getting the few guys left out there that we want in our class. I can't wait to be in Columbus."

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