LAWRENCE – The way Joe Gibson sees it, coming to Kansas was less of a choice and more of a family mission. Where else was he going to go?
His great uncle Ray Evans was a Kansas All-American in both football and basketball in the late 1940s. Another uncle, Harry Gibson, played basketball for KU in the early 1960s. The Jayhawk roots stretch back generations.
When Joe Gibson was a kid, he would go to a game at Allen Fieldhouse or Memorial Stadium, and his father, Paul, would tell family stories and point out Evans’ name in the school’s ring of honor.
So even when Gibson, a former Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst standout, failed to receive a football scholarship offer from KU coach Charlie Weis, he remained undeterred. He accepted an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on and showed up for summer conditioning in 2013, just like the rest of the scholarship freshmen.
“One of the biggest things I learned from the recruiting process was go to a (program) where you want to go to school at,” Gibson said. “My whole life, I’d grown up wanting to go to Kansas.”
One year later, Gibson, a redshirt offensive lineman, is more than just another body on the roster. He was put on scholarship this summer and is in the middle of a three-man battle for the starting job at center.
Junior-college transfer Keyon Haughton began preseason camp as the No. 1 on the depth chart, while freshman Jacon Bragg is also in the competition. Haughton, a Baltimore native, spent last season at Georgia Military Academy, while Bragg is a three-star recruit from Nacogdoches, Texas.
This makes Gibson the savvy veteran in the center competition, which probably sounds a little funny to him. Gibson, however, always believed he could come in and earn a scholarship. He starred at Rockhurst and had interest from other major colleges. But Kansas was the only real choice. So he arrived on campus in 2013 as a 6-foot-3, 270-pound walk-on. One of his first thoughts: Perhaps he could claim a scholarship within a few years.
Then one day in the opening weeks of offseason conditioning, Weis called the team together for a team meeting.
“He said my name, and I kind of perked up,” Gibson recalled. “I was like: ‘Oh, what did I do?’
“And then he said: ‘Congratulations, you got a scholarship.’”
For Gibson, the dream scenario came a little earlier than expected. Now comes more work.
For the Jayhawks, the center position is just one question mark on an offensive line with a lot of moving parts. Seniors Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi appear to have locked down the starting guard spots, while senior Pat Lewandowski is battling juco transfer Larry Mazyck at left tackle. Last week, Weis said he needed a few more days of evaluation before offering any updates on specific position battles. But if recent history is any indication, the offensive line might be in flux for most of the season.
“I’ll see it to the end,” said Haughton, who has played center with the first team at recent practices. “Because whatever goes down, I’m with the team.”
Gibson has kept a similar mindset. A year ago, he was just worried about proving that he belonged at Kansas. In the end, that only took a year. He put 30 pounds on his frame, impressed the coaching staff and steadily climbed onto the depth chart. Now that he’s in the mix for playing time, he’s trying to keep a similar focus.
“My main goal was just to work as hard as I could until I got my scholarship,” Gibson said, “and then keep working.”