A wide-eyed nine-year-old Jayden Gibson watched from the stadium as the Gators stormed the field.
Man, it’d be cool to be down there.
He wouldn’t realize that eight years later, he would one day get a chance to rush onto the gridiron dressed in orange and blue.
Jayden, now a 17-year-old 4-star wide receiver recruit from West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida, committed to UF Oct. 13. His decision not only advanced his football career but also a family legacy. He will suit up for the same program as his father, Kelvin Gibson, and uncle Chris Gibson.
Football tied his family together. They spent family weekends in the backyard throwing and playing flag football. Jayden’s mother, Kimberly Gibson, remembers how Jayden enjoyed every spare moment outdoors.
“Aside from school, church and our faith, we’ve had sports as a family connector,” she said. “It’s something that we all enjoy and are passionate about.”
The day Jayden was born, his father strolled into the hospital room with a football to place over the crib.
At 6 months old, he was holding the ball. He could throw it by the time he could walk.
It was always football for Gibson.
“It’s been a dream since I was a kid to just make sure that I was doing everything right to be able to be in this position,” he said.
And to achieve his goal, he didn’t solely rely on his talent. West Orange head coach Michael Granato noticed Jayden was always the first at meetings.
“He doesn’t really believe in an off season,” Granato said. “He works on his speed, strength, his route running, his technique day in and day out, 365 days a year.”
Jayden often worked out by himself. People always told him he should pursue basketball because of his 6-foot-5-inch frame. He, instead, used that as motivation to prove he could be a good football player.
When the pandemic temporarily halted sports, Jayden helped coordinate team workouts and practices for anyone who was able and willing to come out. His work ethic motivated the rest of the staff and team.
“For a young man to be able to do that at that age really speaks volumes to his desire to be great,” Granato said. “He’s got a knack for really bringing people together.”
Gibson’s mix of hard work and talent earned him 39 offers across the country. Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Baylor are just some of the programs that vied for his attention before he pledged himself to the Gators.
And Jayden plans to bring his hardworking reputation to his new team. The early enrollee believes he will be an asset for UF’s offense when he steps foot in Gainesville January 2022.
When he stood on the sidelines of Florida’s game against Alabama Sept. 18, Jayden saw a glimpse of his future before his eyes. The fans’ energy is what he looks forward to the most in the Swamp.
“First home game,” he said. “That’s what I can’t wait for.”
Despite the Gibsons’ Florida football family history, they would have supported Jayden at whatever school he chose.
He was strongly considering Georgia and Miami but ultimately chose Florida because it feels like home due to his family legacy and trips to Gainesville. He couldn’t pass up UF due to its prestigious academic reputation and football coaches, including head coach Dan Mullen and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales.
“I’m overjoyed,” Kimberly said. “I can’t even put it into words. It’s something that you hope would happen, but you don’t quite know for sure that it will happen until it does.”
Watching Jayden do what he loves over the years and seeing it all amount to the things he once dreamed about is an indescribable experience for Kimberly. But it all traces back to the first time she realized his aspirations would become more than a dream.
Jayden ran an 80 yard touchdown— his first touchdown —in the second grade. Kimberly shed a few tears as she watched from the stands.
“People probably thought it was just because it was a touchdown helping win the game,” she said.It was so much deeper than that. At that moment, I knew this child was going to take it further than anybody in our family.”
That’s when he grew from the boy who tuned into Saturday football for Florida games to a future highly sought recruit.
In a few months, Jayden will don his own jersey, lace up his cleats and storm the same field as the players he admired as a child.
Hey look, we made it.
Contact Elena Barrera at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.