The torchbearer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; When football practice got under way last summer, Kedrick Gibbons heard the haters.

Taunts such as, &uot;stick to track&uot; and &uot;you’re no good out here&uot; came through loud and clear, but Gibbons dusted them off just as he does with his competition when he lines up in a block.

&uot;Track helps me with not only my speed, but my leaping ability as well, for football,&uot; said Gibbons, the current outdoor state champ in the 110-meter hurdles. &uot;Those same people who were dogging me started congratulating me when they saw what I could do.&uot;

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What he has done is openly received the torch for the Natchez track program, with Janice Davis preparing for bigger and better things after this, her final season.

Bulldog track and field coach Larry Wesley called Gibbons, only a junior, his most important athlete in order for the boys to win an outdoor state championship.

Gibbons said he has no problem with pressure and once again proved that this past Saturday as he raced away to the 55-meter hurdles’ title at the LSU Indoor High School Classic against competition from all over the nation.

In just his first meet of the season, Gibbons’ time of 7.41 last weekend ranks him third in the country and prompted Nike to extend him an invitation to run at other meets across the country.

&uot;I never thought I’d get invited to something like what Nike has offered me,&uot; Gibbons said. &uot;I just started doing track to keep out of trouble.&uot;

From childhood to the seventh grade, the pigskin was Gibbons’ main love.

He participated in the Natchez-Adams County summer team for Henry &uot;Doc&uot; Woods between his seventh and eighth grade years.

However, it wasn’t until the following spring when Gibbons made such a big splash.

His success with the junior varsity team garnered a promotion to varsity where he soon realized there was more to life than touchdowns and helmets.

&uot;He’s a natural. He’s got the body mechanics for any event,&uot; Wesley said.

&uot;Last year when he got hurt and we were one of the favorites to win state for the boys, I shut everything down because that’s how important he is to this team.&uot;

Such praise from a coach can have a double-edged sword on an athlete if they are not mature enough to understand the bouquets thrown at them.

But not Gibbons. He spits in the face of pressure and offers it no hand when it falls.

&uot;I’ve felt all of that (pressure) the last couple of years, so it doesn’t bother me any,&uot; said Gibbons, who competes in the long and triple jumps as well as the hurdles during both the outdoor and indoor seasons.

&uot;I know it’s on me to lead us to state because I have a lot more events. And as a team &045; if I can finish first, second or third in all my events &045; that means less points for us to score. I prefer to finish first, though.&uot;

Wesley said Gibbons shows that edge and competitiveness every day of practice. Even when the coach, himself, wants to take a break.

Wesley gave his teams the option before the Christmas break to rest or work through it.

While most clamored to have the two-week holidays completely off, Gibbons stepped up and put his foot down.

&uot;At that point the team wasn’t ready to take a break,&uot; Gibbons said. &uot;It helped us a whole lot. If we hadn’t practice we would’ve gone down to LSU and got embarrassed.&uot;

And after hearing all the trash his football teammates slung during the summer, he wasn’t about to endure any smack from those at Pearl or Port Gibson.

The two Mississippi schools joined Natchez in Baton Rouge last weekend and will be the Bulldogs biggest foe for this weekend’s Mississippi Indoor State Championship.

&uot;Most guys look at track and think of it as a girls’ sport,&uot; Gibbons said. &uot;But in every sport you have to run and track helps condition you for that.

&uot;I had to show all those people who said I was sorry for running track, that it’s not easy. You have to work at it just like everything else.&uot;