ATLANTA, GA — Shawn Gibbs hit the ground running after being named head coach at Fort Valley State University last spring. After getting a late start, he quickly had his team in contention for the SIAC title all the way until the last few weeks of the season.
While he was grateful for what the team achieved, he was keenly aware of what his team missed out on.
“It was a good start. Proud of the guys and the way they went out and competed,” Gibbs told HBCU Gameday at SIAC Media Day. “But you know — at the same time — it was disappointing because 8-2 could have been better. We didn’t get anything for 8-2. You didn’t get a ring. We didn’t get a playoff invite. So it was just a good record. So I tell them right now, we set the standard, and the standard is eight games — so you can’t go backwards. The only way we go from here is up.”
Fort Valley State was picked to finish fourth in the league at media day. Gibbs says he feels like the SIAC is one of the better conferences in Division II — even if those outside the league don’t quite see it.
“I don’t think we get the respect that we deserve,” Gibbs said of the SIAC. “I was pleased to see Benedict get the number one seed last year in our region because they deserved that. Coach (Chennis) Berry did a great job. But this conference is full of good coaches, good teams and good players. And right now, we’re fighting collectively to garner that national respect.”
“I also see it as a lack of respect that we didn’t make the playoffs,” Gibbs continued. “But that was also something that could have been avoided if we just handled our own business. I’m not complaining about that. You know, it is what it is. But I would love to see more of our teams get an opportunity to compete in the playoffs.”
A standout running back at North Carolina Central himself and a long-time position coach at NCCU, Grambling State and NC A&T, Gibbs relied heavily on running back Emmanuel Wilson to set the pace for the offense in 2022. Wilson has now moved on to the pro ranks, and is heading into training camp with the Green Bay Packers.
But Gibbs and Fort Valley State University do not lack talent, particularly at the quarterback position. Redshirt sophomore Kelvin Durham is back to direct the offense once again after a standout season. He threw for just under 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions. He also averaged just under six yards per rush and scored three touchdowns with his legs.
Durham was named the league’s preseason Offensive Player of The Year. That’s a pretty heady accomplishment for a player with just one year under his belt, but Gibbs is confident he can handle the attention and the outside pressure.
“He’s pretty grounded and his teammates do a good job of keeping him grounded. The preseason accolades are exactly what they are — the preseason. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things,” Gibbs said. “We’re proud of him and proud that he got that recognition. But now it’s time to go out and show people that you are the best player in this league on the offensive side of the ball.”
Just because he doesn’t have Wilson to hand the ball off to doesn’t mean Gibbs is ready to re-invent the wheel.
“The main thing that we want Kelvin to understand is we don’t need to win any football games for us,” Gibbs said. “All we want you to do is be a game manager, a facilitator and get the ball to our playmakers in space. And if he can do those things and protect the football — most importantly — then it will be a successful season for him and for the team.”