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College Football

They call him ‘Zeus.’ Now Towson’s Jesus Gibbs is one of the best athletes in college football.

“Zeus” seems an appropriate nickname for Jesus Gibbs.

At 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, the redshirt senior defensive lineman for the Towson University football team has the broad shoulders, barrel chest and thick legs befitting a Greek god. But the nickname has more rudimentary origins, said Gibbs, who credited classmates at Potomac High School in Dumfries, Virginia, with the moniker that played off the pronunciation of his first name (hay-SOOS).

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“It started off as a joke, like ‘Hey, Zeus,’” he said. “It was annoying at first because I was like, ‘That’s not my name. My name is Jesus.’ And then it just stuck. People started calling me Zeus, and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’”

Gibbs, 22, hasn’t yet attained deity status, but he’s starting to get noticed. On Aug. 10, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman ranked Gibbs at No. 37 on his annual Freaks List of the top 100 athletes in college football.

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Feldman cited Gibbs’ measurables of a 37-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot broad jump, a 1.58-second 10-yard split and a 400-pound bench press for the lineman’s inclusion on his list, which is littered with athletes from top Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Michigan, Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, many of whom eventually reach the NFL. Gibbs pointed out that he squatted 750 pounds with a safety barbell, and Justin Lima, the team’s director of football performance, said Gibbs also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds and has been clocked at 20 miles per hour when wearing a GPS unit on the field.

Jesus Gibbs, a redshirt senior defensive lineman for the Towson football team, goes by the nickname “Zeus.” He also has been honored by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman in his annual list of the top 100 athletes in college football.

Gibbs said he was unaware of his position on the Freaks List until defensive line coach Collin Bauer informed him after a team meeting. He is one of only 11 players from Football Championship Subdivision or Division II programs to make the cut.

“To be honest, I never expected a small-school guy to make the list,” Gibbs said. “You know how when you have a crush on a girl and you get those butterflies in your stomach? That’s kind of like how I felt. It made me nervous.”

On Wednesday, Gibbs was one of 484 players across the country to be named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List. If selected, he will be eligible to play in the Senior Bowl scheduled for Feb. 4, which annually features some of the top prospects for the NFL draft.

Gibbs’ road to athletic nirvana did not appear likely based on his family history. His father is 5-9, his mother is 5-5, and his oldest sister is 5-3. But another sister is 5-10, and Gibbs went from 5-3 in the sixth grade to 5-7 in the seventh to 6-0 in the eighth.

“I kind of figured, ‘Maybe I’m going to be done when I get to 6 foot, but I’ll take it,’” he said. “I guess I got the luck of the draw.”

Along similar lines, Gibbs did not play organized football until his freshman year of high school due to concerns his mother had about head injuries. But after that first season on the junior varsity squad during which he lined up at defensive end, linebacker, tight end and offensive tackle, he was promoted to the varsity team.

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As a sophomore, Gibbs played right tackle. As a junior, he switched to left tackle. Then as a senior, he returned to the defensive line.

“You get that fuel for the hunt,” he said of his preference to play defense. “I really like to chase somebody who is 70 pounds lighter than you, hawk them down, and then get that tackle. It was fun on offense, too, because on offense, you get to impose your will on people. But on defense, it’s like that new Predator movie [Prey]. I go hunt.”

But Gibbs was recruited by Clemson, South Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech as an offensive lineman, and he committed to the Gamecocks in July 2017. In his first month at South Carolina, he injured his knee and entered the transfer portal, eventually choosing the Tigers. In nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, he had 10 tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hurries.

In four games last fall, Gibbs compiled 15 tackles, including three for loss. In a 48-21 loss at San Diego State on Sept. 25, he racked up five tackles, including two for loss, against the FBS opponent.

But during a subsequent practice, Gibbs planted his right foot and crumpled to the turf. Further examination determined that he had torn his Achilles tendon, prematurely ending his season as the Tigers limped to a 4-7 record.

Towson coach Rob Ambrose said Gibbs’ loss was a blow for the defense — and a blessing for opponents.

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“Everybody took a deep breath last year when they found out that Zeus was hurt and said, ‘OK, at least we don’t have to deal with him this year,’” he said. “But they knew he was going to come back this year.”

Initially frustrated by a projected timeline of a nine-to-12-month recovery process, Gibbs said he was inspired by the example of Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, who overcame a ruptured right Achilles in just five months and played in the team’s final five games, including a 23-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.

“That’s when I regained my motivation,” Gibbs said. “I was like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

Towson defensive lineman Jesus Gibbs works out at the team's facility. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman cited Gibbs’ measurables of a 37-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot broad jump, a 1.58-second 10-yard split and a 400-pound bench press for the lineman’s inclusion on his list of the top 100 athletes in college football.

Under a rehab regimen closely monitored by Lima and head athletic trainer Kyle Cherry, Gibbs was cleared in seven months. He is one of 24 players to make every training session during the summer, joining the “100% club.”

“The thing about him is, it’s easy to work with him because he does have that drive to want to be good, and he understands this domain,” Lima said. “In strength terms, he understands physiology and biology. So it’s easy to talk to him to get him to understand what we’re looking for.”

To get a sense of Gibbs’ strength, he knocked out three sets of single-leg reverse lunges maxing out at 545 pounds, three sets of deep squats of 325 pounds with a two-second pause at the bottom, three sets of 10 TRX ab fallouts, and three sets of dumbbell side bends maxing out with a 110-pound dumbbell on each side during a 30-minute lifting session on Aug. 24.

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“It was a light day,” Gibbs said afterward.

Lima said Gibbs has a rare ability to lift as much as his fellow linemen and keep pace with teammates at the skill positions.

“When we did our speed work, he would do the speed work with the skill guys so that he could push them to run faster because he would sometimes run faster than them,” Lima said. “And then he’d lift with the linemen to make them push themselves, too.”

Gibbs said his top priority is staying healthy this fall, not accumulating individual honors.

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“That’s my main thing right now – coming in and doing extra mobility work and doing isolation holds on my tendons so that they become stronger,” he said. “...Before I get any accolades, I want to win.”

Lima said Gibbs has not yet tested in a few drills usually held at the NFL scouting combine because they’re not necessary to football practices and games. But he anticipated that Gibbs would pass them with flying colors after the season. “I wouldn’t be surprised if his numbers jump off the charts,” he said. “It will all be impressive to everybody.”

Gibbs admitted being “aloof” to the idea of trying to make it to the NFL. Now it’s a possibility he can view on the horizon.

“That is my biggest dream,” he said. “I definitely hope and pray for that. I don’t care what round I go in. Even if I go undrafted, I just want something. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Season opener

TOWSON@BUCKNELL

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Saturday, 6 p.m.

Stream: ESPN+


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