ST. PETERSBURG – There seems to be a renaissance taking place in south Pinellas County this season and it’s source appears to be Gibbs High School. The Gladiators are 6-3, 3-0 overall this season having wrapped up an undefeated district slate last week with a 74-0 victory over Dunedin. They’ll travel to undefeated Braden River this week to finish the season and will host Jefferson in the first round of the playoffs.
The Gladiators handed Clearwater their only loss of the season and thumped their arch-rivals Lakewood while reaching six wins for the first time since 2009 when Donnie Abraham was the head coach. This year is also guaranteed to be Gibbs’ first winning season since 2009 and if they can get to seven wins, they could post their best win total since 2000.
There are several reasons for the resurgence, but one of the main reasons that Gibbs is tasting success is the recipe that first year Head Coach John Thompson has cooked up for the program. He joined us to talk about his squad and some of the special players that have made this season what it is. One of those players is DJ Johnson. He’s stands at 5-foot-8, 170-pounds, but he plays like he’s larger-than-life and has posted some of the sickest numbers around. Through nine games this season, Johnson is responsible 2,909 yards passing/rushing/receiving and in the return game. His thirty-six touchdowns puts him ahead of a double-digit number of teams that haven’t scored as much this season, but he’s not the only factor–albeit a big factor–but not the ONLY one.
Everyone makes the big deal about “Hollywood High” aka Lakewood and all of the talent and success they’ve had in the recent past, but people understand there’s more than just the Spartans with that kind of talent and support in the area as well–and that it was only a matter of time before someone came in to create the same atmosphere. Coach Jon Thompson sits down with us and gives us eight good minutes of his time.
BCP: It’s been a great season to say the least at Gibbs, can you give us your thoughts coach?
Coach Thompson: “I’ve been very pleased with the way our team has performed. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of really good kids here at Gibbs High School and I think all that was needed was some organization and some discipline and you see the results.”
BCP: Coach, can you give us your insight on DJ Johnson and his contributions this season?
Coach Thompson: “Coaches talk about something we call “quick-twitch” and DJ Johnson one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of that. It’s more than straight-line speed, it’s agility, and that innate ability to make somebody miss and he definitely has that. He’s also very tough and he delivers a blow at the end of a lot of his runs and the guys around him are just excited to be on the field with him.
BCP: Is he (Johnson) what they call a special high school football player? Aside from the debate about what he would play on the next level in college, he’s the very definition of a high school football player, would you agree?
Coach Thompson: “I don’t know who wouldn’t describe him as that. You have to be pretty ignorant not to recognize his talent on the football field. He’s very special.”
BCP: Aside from the organizational issues that you mentioned needed to be corrected, was there any ONE thing in addition to that you felt was needed in order to get this thing turned around? Was it schematic? What was the thing you said that “if you got (x) done–this would help us?
Coach Thompson: “I don’t think it was schematically. We try to keep things simple and try to keep it to what we do best. The biggest thing for us has been establishing a sense of family inside the locker room–understanding how special it is to be able to go out there everyday and practice with your brothers–to put that uniform on and play for Gibbs–that’s something we’ve emphasized and preached every single day.”
BCP: Coach, obviously you guys are more than just DJ Johnson though, who are some of the guys you’ve been impressed with and help make this process work?
Coach Thompson: “We got guys everywhere–there’s talent at almost every single position. We have a junior wide receiver named Quandale Inmon that’s blazing fast and as tough as it gets–we have a running back and a linebacker named Reggie Hinton who has been willing to play any position he’s been asked–we have a defensive end slash linebacker named Qu’travein Landers who is one of the top sack leaders in the entire state. We have a junior safety named Jermaine Ivery who is one of the top tacklers in the state and also in interceptions. Marquez Walls is a stud for us at wide receiver and DB and is also a heck of a kicker, too–and we have a young offensive line that has gotten better each and every week being able to play next to one another and know each other. And then you throw in the mix that we’ve been incredibly blessed when it comes to injuries. We hit everyday in practice and pride ourselves in our toughness, but as a coaching staff we try to be as smart as possible with the contact and I think a big part of that is simply luck.”
BCP: You mentioned some juniors, coach. That ties into the optimism that this isn’t a one-hit wonder for the Gladiators this season–that things are setup nicely and the cupboard isn’t bear at all–is that the way you feel, too?
Coach Thompson: “One-hundred percent. We have a junior that’s playing wide receiver right now who we feel will slide right into the quarterback position next season, his name is Mar’quan Harris. He’s gotten some time at the position this season, but like I said–our big boys are young and as a head coach that’s about as exciting as things get–when you’ve got four-out-of-five offensive lineman coming back and you’ve got some sophomores that you think can do the job going into next season–that’s an exciting situation. As long as we’re smart as a coaching staff about adjusting our approach each and every year to our specific talent, there’s no reason we can’t continue to have a lot of success.”
BCP: The Gladiators have an undefeated Braden River team with an offense that puts up big points. You would think that if there’s some effectiveness against them, that it would give your team confidence going up against Jefferson next week in the playoffs, right?
Coach Thompson: “We have a lot or respect for Jefferson. I personally attended their playoff game with Armwood a few years back and was just blown away by the talent on the field and their ability to coach. We won’t be underestimating them in any sense. We are battling with Braden River this week and we are treating it was a great tune-up for the playoffs. They’re about as good of a team that we are going to face this season. We’re not changing our approach at all though, we pride ourselves on our ability to grind and we’re not going to let up this week because of any specific scenario that’s already been wrapped up.”