College Sports

Why former Hough High QB Jackson Gibbs is leaving UCLA to play at Appalachian State

Former Hough High quarterback Jackson Gibbs, who spent last season at UCLA, said he is transferring to Appalachian State.
Former Hough High quarterback Jackson Gibbs, who spent last season at UCLA, said he is transferring to Appalachian State. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Next week is finals week at UCLA, and former Hough High quarterback Jackson Gibbs is one exam away from the end of his freshman year.

The Davidson native will take his last test on Monday and fly back to North Carolina later that night. His flight will land early Tuesday morning, giving him just enough time to get ready for his brother Miller’s high school graduation.

Jackson, who redshirted as a first-year quarterback for the Bruins last year, announced Friday that he was transferring to Appalachian State. He said on Saturday that he will sit out the 2018 season to comply with NCAA transfer rules. But at least when Jackson finally gets to Boone for summer sessions, his brother will be coming with him.

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Quarterback Jackson Gibbs spent last college football season as a backup at UCLA. UCLA Athletics

Miller, a tight end/wide receiver, will join the Mountaineers’ program as a preferred walk-on. On top of finishing his senior year at Hough, Miller served as Jackson’s most dedicated recruiter.

“Before I ever really started thinking about transferring or anything like that, my brother decided to go to App,” said Jackson, who is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. “He’s been one of the biggest recruiters for me for a while to go there.

“After spring ball there (at Appalachian State), I started evaluating everything. Obviously, he was pushing that one really hard.”

First off, Miller wanted his brother to succeed at UCLA more than anything. Miller also didn’t want to nag Jackson. But when his older brother started thinking about a change, the younger brother had already planted the idea.

Miller, 18, was set on playing at App State by the start of his senior year. Infrequently, he would briefly bring up the Mountaineers to Jackson. Miller also tried less-than-subtle approaches, like giving Jackson an App State lanyard for Christmas.

“We would kind of touch over the subject,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t bring it up all the way, but he knew what I was getting at.”

Jackson found his way to UCLA after attending a Michigan camp. While there, he met then-Wolverines passing coordinator Jedd Fisch.

Fisch later became the offensive coordinator at UCLA for the final season (2017) of the Jim Mora era. Jackson said after Fisch’s move, the coach recruited him to join the Bruins as a preferred walk-on. Fisch was not retained to the UCLA staff after the Bruins hired Chip Kelly.

During his lone year in Los Angeles, Jackson shared a quarterback room with with future first-round pick Josh Rosen — who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and their App State alumnus head coach Steve Wilks — and also interacted with NFL greats like quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks during workouts.

“Josh is extremely smart — the smartest quarterback I’ve ever been around — as well as the most talented passer I’ve been around,” Jackson said. “Getting to learn under him this past year was huge for me.”

The pull to be closer to home, combined with the fact he’d be one of many UCLA quarterbacks returning next season, convinced Jackson to look elsewhere.

Jackson said he took an official visit to Appalachian State between his junior and senior years at Hough, where Miller just wrapped up his high school career. He hasn’t gotten to visit since, but he feels he can bring strength to the youthful quarterbacks.

Appalachian State had four quarterbacks competing for the starting job this spring — Zac Thomas, Peyton Derrick, Jacob Huesman and Stephon Brown — and they are all sophomores or younger. That didn’t deter Jackson at all.

“App felt like the best fit, and I love Boone,” Jackson said. “... It’s going to be my type of place.”

Jackson and Miller expect to room together when they move up the mountain. And they are already relishing the chance to be teammates again.

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Former Hough High quarterback Jackson Gibbs (right) is shown here in 2002 with his grandfather, Joe Gibbs, a NASCAR team owner and former NFL coach. JOHN D. SIMMONS jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Having not completed a college down, Jackson hasn’t played live football in more than a year. The last time he did, it was in a Hough Huskies uniform alongside his brother.

Miller and Jackson hope they can get on the field together someday. Maybe even the brothers, both grandsons of former NFL coach and NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs, could complete a pass between the two of them.

That, Jackson said, would be one of the greatest things he could ask for out of his decision to play at Appalachian State.

“Gosh, just thinking about it — that ability to throw a pass to my brother on one of the biggest college football stages, that means everything to me,” Jackson said. “... Hopefully hoping for many of those occasions to occur in the future.

“That would be extremely memorable not just for me, but for my whole family.”​

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/asu/

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