Torrance Gibson’s frame and speed make him an ideal candidate for a go route or fade to the corner of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown for American Heritage.
But he prefers to be the one throwing the ball, not receiving it.
Gibson, a 6-4, 200-pound versatile player who can run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, is rated as the No. 2 athlete — not quarterback — in the nation by ESPN.
It’s a designation that Gibson is using as motivation.
“They add fuel to the fire when they say, ‘He’s an athlete. He can’t throw the ball,’ ” Gibson said. “You’re just going to watch the show. And I’m just going to show everyone I can play quarterback.”
Heritage coach Mike Rumph, who played defensive back on the University of Miami’s 2001 national championship team and also played for the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams, is a staunch Gibson supporter.
“I’m glad people are saying they don’t trust his arm, because they’re going to believe that hype,” Rumph said. “But once you see him, you’re going to see a guy who puts the ball where it needs to be and a guy that’s a big-time leader for us.”
After Heritage beat Lake Wales 48-16 on Dec. 7, 2013, to advance to the school’s first state title game since 1998, Rumph had a heart-to-heart talk with Gibson and told him, “You’re going to be a quarterback. Just keep working hard and keeping being you.”
The encouragement has had a positive effect on Gibson.
“It means a lot [coming from] a coach that played in the NFL and went through the things I’m going through right now,” Gibson said. “When a coach says that, it brings joy to my heart.
“I’m just going to show the world I’m going to play quarterback.”
The Patriots showed their all-around talent last season by winning a state title behind powerhouse running back Sony Michel, slot receiver/return man Isaiah McKenzie and Gibson under center last season.
In the state championship game, Michel and McKenzie — now freshmen at the University of Georgia — accounted for three touchdowns each in Heritage’s 66-8 domination of Green Cove Springs Clay.
Gibson completed 9 of 10 passes for 161 yards and threw two touchdown passes in that game, and he also ran for a game-high 154 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.
Last season, Michel accounted for 1,833 yards on 213 carries and 24 touchdowns, and Gibson helped keep Heritage’s offense at a fast tempo through the air and on the ground. This season, Gibson will be expected to top his junior-season stats. He completed 85 of 153 passes for 1,789 yards, 19 touchdowns with three interceptions, and he ran for 1,063 yards on 111 carries.
“Everyone’s looking at me,” Gibson said of his team’s hopes of repeating as state champions. “We’re going to do it without Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie. They think because we don’t have those guys that we can’t do it again. So we’re just going to show the world again.”
Heritage is hoping running backs Travis Jackson and Keyshawn Bryant — who Rumph and Gibson have said reminds them of Michel — can supplement the offense in the running game. But Gibson will be depending heavily on junior wide receivers Brandon Johnson (6-1, 166 pounds) and University of Miami commit Dedrick Snelson (5-11, 194 pounds).
“We’re going to throw the ball a lot this year,” Gibson said. “I’m trying to limit my running this year, but if I have to run, I have to run. I’m going to throw a lot this year.”
On defense, the Patriots are led by senior five-star cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (6-3, 198 pounds), rated by 247Sports.com as the fourth-best player at the position in the country.
But, more importantly, Rumph is hoping Gibson and McFadden can keep the Patriots family together throughout the season.
“In the offseason, I harped on [the players] becoming a family,” said Rumph, who led team trips to the movies and beach among other activities to increase the camaraderie among the players. “And when they became a family — which was pretty fast — I tried to have them [all] become leaders.
“We’ve been focused on forgetting about last year. We haven’t spoken about last season all summer.”
Gibson, while trying to show recruiters his quarterback skills, will have to be the No. 1 leader for his teammates on and off the field if he wants to “shock the world” like he plans to with another state championship.
“I have faith in these guys,” Gibson said. “I’ve been around these guys for three or four years. They have my back, and I have their back, and I don’t want to let them down this year.”