Story by Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY September 17, 2013 Racked by graduation losses from last year’s Class C finalist team, Liberty coach John Wilhelm was very happy to see Shakree Gibson show up for the first day of practice back in August.
The former Fallsburg running back has breakaway speed and dazzling moves a true playmaker. He was last season's leading rusher in Sullivan County with 1,039 yards on just 124 carries but moved to Liberty after Fallsburg could not field a varsity football program this season.
"Shakree is definitely a big addition for us at running back," said Wilhelm. "But he's also just a great kid, very coachable and he seems really happy to be here at Liberty."
And according to Gibson, who won only one game in his years with Fallsburg while enduring 28 losses, he loves it at Liberty where football is on the rise.
"I love football,” said Gibson. “It's my sport and it’s just great to be here at a school where it's actually taken seriously."
Gibson, a senior who started playing at Fallsburg when he was a freshman a mere year after a football program was implemented at the school for the first time says he actually developed his love for the game when he started playing Pop Warner ball in seventh grade.
"I always enjoyed watching the sport, but once I got a taste of it, it was over for me. It's by far my main sport."
But life for Gibson who aspires to play college ball - didn't always look so promising. From an early age, Gibson grew up in the foster care system. His former Pop Warner coach from 2005-2007 and current Liberty High-School announcer and statistician Les Jackson recalls a young Gibson: "He was just such a positive and eager-to-please young boy," says Jackson. “That's when he completely fell in love with the game. All I did was just try to keep him focused and driven."
Gibson was one of the fortunate ones, though, landing in the home of Fallsburg native Brenda Miller, mother to 2013 Democrat basketball Player of the Year Rakhir Watson. There, according to Jackson, he was raised in a positive, nurturing environment and "thrived to be the outstanding young man he is today."
Asked how he felt when he realized Fallsburg wouldn't be fielding a varsity football team this season, Gibson explained, "I found out at the end of last season. There was talk about it in the middle of the season, but when it became official it was like it wasn't real to me. I couldn't believe I might not be able to play football."
So Gibson and his family started looking at their options for his senior year. "He begged to go somewhere he could play," offers Jackson. Once he saw there would be no team at Fallsburg he knew they'd [Gibson and family] have to make some moves."
"I just wanted to play football, plain and simple," says Gibson. "I was crushed when they told us no football at Fallsburg."
Gibson admits that other schools were considered, but he and his family thought Liberty would offer him the greatest chance to succeed.
So the move was made.
And now, after two games under his belt, Gibson looks to be on pace to eclipse last season's numbers with 217 yards rushing on just 25 carries, good for a healthy 8.7 yards-per-carry average.
“I just try to get as focused as possible," says Gibson of his pre-game preparation. "I just clear my mind of all else and visualize my line opening big holes for me, and hopefully with that extra push I can bounce outside. I really try to prepare both mentally and physically for football because I think both aspects are equally important to the game."
As far as his new digs: "All my new teammates and coaches here have been just great to me," he says. "They've all been so welcoming to me. On the very first day of practice, all my teammates came up individually and introduced themselves and just really made me feel at home.
"And school is going great too right now. My guidance counselor is helping me with my classes and helping adjust to the new school. If I get to play college football in the future she's [his guidance counselor] also begun helping me with that as well."
As for his goals for this young football season, Gibson is all about his new team. "Last season was a personal milestone for me and that was special, but right now it's not about me, it's about the Liberty Indians and winning football games. I just want to win some games. You know, after going 1-28 the last three seasons at Fallsburg, the only thing I'm looking for are wins right now. I'm a believer that if we play some solid football as a team, the rest will come."