Towson University’s 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end Jesus (pronounced Hay-Zeus) Gibbs is entering his senior season with a sense of urgency. An NFL prospect with speed and strength, he’s aiming to have a big year while wreaking havoc against opposing offenses.

“Jesus is a joy to be around because he has such a great personality,” defensive coordinator Darian Dulin said. “He’s very communicative and expresses himself with a thoughtful intelligence. He’s a positive influence on everyone around him, and he wants us to build something special here. Whoever lines up across from him this year is going to have to deal with a guy that is very hungry.”

When Gibbs walked into his freshman math class at Potomac High School in Dumfries, Virginia, in 2014, his teacher took one look at the 6-foot ninth grader who weighed 205 pounds and asked, “Do you play football?”

“No,” Gibbs replied.

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“You never played?” said the instructor, who also happened to be the freshman football coach.


“Do you want to play?”

“Yeah, I’ve been asking my mom for a long time, but she wouldn’t let me play. She was scared that I would get hurt. My grandfather finally convinced her to let me play this year.”

“Okay, come to my classroom after school, and I’ll take you over to the field.”

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Jesus Gibbs
Gibbs transferred from South Carolina to Towson in part for the opportunity to play defensive line instead of offense. (Towson Athletics)

Gibbs didn’t have any concept about the summer workouts and two-a-day training camp practices that the other players had already experienced. He simply showed up at that practice after the first day of school, wearing pads and a helmet for the very first time.

He was raw but had natural speed, strength, athleticism and good footwork that had been honed playing pickup basketball. He also inherited some strong athletic genes from his mom and dad, who ran track and played football, respectively, when they were high school sweethearts in Brooklyn, New York.

The coaching staff noticed that, despite his size, Gibbs could move and run like a much smaller player.

“You’re a skinny guy in a big man’s body,” they told him.

They experimented with him at linebacker and on the offensive and defensive lines. It took him a few weeks to learn how to tackle and to use his hands, power and leverage. But, once he did, he quickly established himself as the best player on the team.

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He showed up for summer practices before his sophomore year weighing 235 pounds and earned a spot on the varsity roster.

“The coaches told me, ‘Hey, we’re pretty stacked on the defensive line, but we don’t have a right tackle on offense,’” Gibbs said. “They said, if I wanted to start on the varsity squad that season, I’d have to play on the offensive line, so that’s what I did.”

He did well enough to earn invites to the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech’s prospect camps.

“To be honest, I hadn’t entertained any thoughts of playing in college,” Gibbs said. “I really liked it but just thought it would bolster my college applications as an extracurricular activity.”

Academics would be his ticket to a college education. He’d always flourished in the classroom, equipped with a quick and inquisitive mind.

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His future came more into focus during his breakout junior season when he played left tackle. Now 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he began punishing opposing defensive linemen.

“I literally named my junior year highlight tape IHOP,” Gibbs said. “It was a 10-minute reel of me dishing out nothing but pancake blocks.”

In the middle of that junior year, he received his first scholarship offer. When Virginia offered, the floodgates opened. Practically every school in the Atlantic Coast Conference offered, along with a few from the Southeastern Conference.

But Gibbs didn’t have much guidance during the recruiting process. His high school program wasn’t very good, and he didn’t have a mentor on the coaching staff who could offer advice, telling him what to look for, what questions to ask about not only football but about the best academic programs.

Gibbs has dealt with a couple of major injuries during his college career. (EL Brown / Towson Athletics)

“The University of South Carolina recruited me really hard and I liked and jelled with their offensive coaching staff,” Gibbs said. “I went for a visit, they put me through a workout and said, ‘Yeah, we want you here.’ Two years prior I donned a helmet for the very first time, and now I pictured myself playing in front of 80,000 people on Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference.”

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During his senior year, the coaching staff played him on both sides of the ball and he immediately fell in love with the defensive line. He called Will Muschamp, the head coach at South Carolina at the time, and respectfully told him that he was going to decommit.

The Gamecocks had recruited him to play on the offensive line, and he didn’t have a relationship with the defensive coaching staff. Vanderbilt and a few other schools in the SEC and the ACC were offering him scholarships to play defense, and that’s where his passion lay.

“You don’t have to decommit,” Gibbs recalls Muschamp telling him. “We’ll let you flip.”

But, when he arrived on campus, the defensive coaches weren’t welcoming. After all, they hadn’t recruited him.

“During that first summer camp at South Carolina prior to my freshman year, I tore my meniscus,” Gibbs said. “I had surgery and, as I was going through rehab, the staff asked me to switch back to the offensive line. I was adamant that I was coming there to play defense, and I felt like they were trying to finesse me, like they just told me what I wanted to hear to get me on campus with the intention of having me play offense all along.”

Gibbs decided to transfer to a school that was excited about him playing defense. At the same time, his beloved grandfather, the one who convinced his mother to let him play football, was ill and facing increased medical challenges, so he wanted to be closer to home.

He had his sights set on Maryland or Virginia Tech, but the NCAA’s draconian rules at the time stipulated that he would have to sit out a full season if he transferred to another FBS school. James Madison had recruited him heavily when he was in high school, but when he called he learned the defensive coordinator had moved on to East Carolina.

Towson saw his name in the transfer portal and reached out. He visited the school and liked it.

“I was like, ‘Bet I’m going to come here,’' Gibbs said. “But the intention was to treat it as if I was going to junior college. My plan was to play a year or two and dominate, put some strong tape together and then transfer back up to the major D-I level.”

During his freshman year at Towson, he saw playing time in every game, but a senior was ahead of him on the depth chart. He was slated to be the starting defensive end as a sophomore, but the season was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

In the fall of 2021, he came out hot with some strong showings in the Tigers’ first four games.

“I played really well against San Diego State and North Dakota State and was poised to have a breakout year, but then I tore my Achilles tendon and was done for the year,” Gibbs said. “I was hurt, had surgery, was going through rehab and the team didn’t have a very good year. I felt like my career was done, that every plan I had as it related to football was gone.”

Gibbs fell into a deep depression. He had to drag himself out of bed. He stopped attending classes, stopped bathing and shaving. His GPA plummeted, and he lost his athletic eligibility.

“I didn’t have any hope and did terribly academically,” Gibbs said. “My mental health was not in a good place, and I thought I’d never play football again.”

He went through the motions of the rehab process, but he wasn’t the same. His spark and energy had dissipated. He made progress in his recovery but wasn’t hopeful. He started thinking about the jobs he wanted to pursue after graduation.

But, as he sat down to watch Super Bowl LVI between the Rams and the Bengals, he saw that Cam Akers, the Rams’ star running back who’d torn his Achilles five months prior, was back on the field.

“Once I saw him playing in that game after suffering the same injury as me, that’s when my mindset shifted and the spark returned,” Gibbs said. “I got more serious about my rehab and took six classes during the spring semester and did well enough to regain my eligibility. By the end of the spring, I was back at 95% of my strength.”

“Jesus is a freak athlete and everything you want in a defensive lineman,” said Jordan Mynatt, a former linebacker and safety for the Tigers who was a member of the Towson defensive coaching staff last year. “He’s explosive, physical at the point of attack, has a high motor and is the ultimate team guy. Above everything else, he’s an outstanding leader.”

Last summer, prior to his first game back, he began to keep a daily journal. On Aug. 16, 2022, he wrote in his notebook, “Goal: Senior Bowl invite.”

Little did Gibbs know that, a few days prior, he’d been featured on The Athletic’s 2022 College Football “Freaks” list as one of the top players with unique physical abilities. Shortly thereafter, he earned a spot on the Senior Bowl watch list.

“It took me a few games last year before everything began to click,” Gibbs said. “After the fourth game, when I stopped worrying about my steps, how I was running, planting my feet and getting hurt again, that’s when I started to flash my true potential.”

NFL scouts started showing up at practices and games as Gibbs went on to lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss. He earned All-Colonial Athletic Association second-team honors. This summer, he earned a spot on the 2024 Shrine Bowl 1000 list, solidifying him as one of the top NFL prospects in the country.

Jesus Gibbs
Gibbs entered the transfer portal again after last season but decided to remain at Towson with its new coaching staff. (Towson Athletics)

“He’s a good character kid that always stepped on the practice field, into the weight room, into film study, into meetings and into the classroom with the right mindset,” Mynatt said. “Everything you want from a player, he has it all.”

At the conclusion of last season, long-time Towson coach Ron Ambrose was let go. The school hired Baltimore native Pete Shinnick, the son of former Baltimore Colts linebacker Don Shinnick who guided West Florida to a Division II national championship in 2019.

Wary of starting over with a new coaching staff, Gibbs thought about transferring.

“His name was in the transfer portal when we got here,” Shinnick said. “He had some good opportunities and options at other schools that really wanted him. I told him, ‘Hey, we want you here and we want you to give us a shot.’ About 10 days in, he had embraced the new culture as he became more understanding of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.”

“With the new coaches coming in, I didn’t know any of them and what their plans would be,” Gibbs said. “I entered the transfer portal, but I wanted to graduate from Towson before I thought about going anywhere else. I liked what the new coaches had to say, and I was impressed that they showed up at informal workouts in January and February that weren’t mandatory. I’d never seen that here before, with the head coach coming to informal workouts and taking the time to get to know you as a person. That convinced me to stick around and finish out my college career at a place that I truly love.”

On the verge of the season opener against Maryland Saturday, Gibbs is locked in on leaving a legacy at Towson.

“I’m ready to rock and roll, to play ball, play fast, play physical, play violent,” Gibbs said. “Last year was the first full year that I played as a starter. The game has slowed down for me now. I’m ready to go and plan on enjoying every single moment.”

Alejandro Danois was a sports writer for The Banner. He specializes in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic.

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