Jackson Gibbs still remembers his first year of tackle football, way back in the fifth grade.
“I wanted to play quarterback,” Gibbs said. “Of course I did. It just started from there.”
Something else Gibbs remembers from that fifth grade squad?
The coach – his grandfather, Joe Gibbs, an NFL Hall-of-Famer and the founder of NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing.
“All my grandkids are around football,” Joe Gibbs said, “and you can probably blame part of that on me.
“But in our family, football’s a big part of our life.”
That still applies to Jackson, now the starting quarterback at Hough High in Charlotte. He has his senior year ahead of him, and for extra summer practice, he and his teammates took part Saturday in Cam Newton’s 7-on-7 Championship Football Tournament.
His grandfather was in the stands watching.
A family legacy
Joe Gibbs may have started out as a quarterback himself, but he was always meant to be a coach.
After playing college ball at San Diego State under legendary coach Don Coryell, famous for his “Air Coryell” passing system, Gibbs returned to the Aztecs as an assistant coach. From there, he worked his way up the ranks and into the NFL, building a reputation as an offensive guru.
Then, in 1981, Gibbs was named an NFL head coach, in Washington.
What followed was one of the most decorated coaching careers of all time, capped off by three Super Bowl wins in a nine-year stretch. He retired from coaching in early 1993.
But he didn’t stay away from football.
He returned as Washington’s coach in the mid-2000’s, but only stayed four years. Since then he’s been in Charlotte, spending time with his family and helping his grandson navigate his own football path.
Still, much of Jackson’s story is yet to be told.
A grandfather's support
Down on the field in Fort Mill, Jackson threw touchdown pass after touchdown pass as Hough moved through the tournament. He was confident and calm directing the offense, just as his grandfather once was.
“Obviously having a Hall-of-Fame coach doesn’t hurt,” Jackson said, grinning. “He’s been a tremendous influence.”
Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs watches quietly from the stands.
“I let the coaches coach them,” he said. “All I am out here is a grandfather.”
Grandfather and grandson will occasionally go over film, Jackson said, or talk about Jackson’s impending college decision, but Joe Gibbs is anything but a coach on the field.
“I just wave at him at the end of practice and he waves at me,” Hough coach Miles Aldridge said, “and we go our ways.”
A gifted athlete and passer
Jackson, for his part, is carrying on the family legacy. He’s 6-1 and quick, gifted both as an athlete and passer. That was clear Saturday, as he led Hough all the way to the semifinals of the tournament.
And Jackson’s play is finally causing other coaches, besides his granddad, to take notice. He’s been linked to UNC and Virginia for a while now, and in June, he picked up another offer, from Michigan.
From his days as a kid, throwing passes to NFL players such as Santana Moss and Clinton Portis, to Saturday afternoon, Jackson has come a long way.
But he still has a ways to go – at least he knows he’ll have his granddad there with him.