MOORHEAD-After Saturday night's football game against Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota State Moorhead senior Damon Gibson plans to head home so he can be ready to drive truck and haul grain for his father early Sunday morning.
For the 6-foot-4, 236-pound wide receiver, who has been drawing interest from NFL scouts, farming is a way for him to take a break from school, football and the added attention.
"Taking a step out of it and getting back into the sticks is definitely nice," said Gibson, who is from Beardsley, Minn., which is around 100 miles south of Moorhead.
Gibson is off to a strong start to his final season with the Dragons, with 29 catches for 399 yards and three touchdowns through three games. He leads the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, averaging 9.7 catches and 133 receiving yards per game. MSUM (1-2) hosts the Golden Bears (1-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.
"Teams know about him, so they've got their best guys on him and they game plan their coverages around him," Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said of Gibson. "The fact that he's statistically done what he's done this year I think is impressive. ... It's tough to duplicate the numbers he had last year."
Gibson had 90 catches for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns during his junior season, setting school records for receiving yards and receiving TDs in a season. He also tied the program record for receptions in a season. Those numbers caught the attention of pro scouts, who started showing up on the MSUM campus last spring.
Since then, there have been scouts from 12 different NFL teams that have come to Moorhead, including the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Four more teams have been in contact with the Dragons about Gibson.
"He's been managing that part really well, keeping his focus on playing good football and still managing those duties that come with it," Laqua said. "It's exciting for the program, knowing we have that kind of attention from the next level. I think that's a sign of a good football program."
Gibson currently projects to be a late-round draft pick or more likely an undrafted free agent, Laqua said.
"A small-school kid getting drafted is difficult," Laqua said. "It depends on who you talk to. It's difficult because they do try to hold their cards close."
Gibson has stayed true to his personality in his interactions with pro scouts, Laqua said, showing up at meetings in his cowboy boots and saying "howdy" when he walks into the room.
"The really cool thing is by the sounds of each scout, Damon is pretty genuine in who he is when he talks with them," Laqua said. "I think scouts appreciate that there's not a lot of trying to be something that you're not."
When Gibson plays video games on Xbox One, he doesn't play Madden, the popular NFL football series. He's into Farming Simulator 17.
"It's a blast," Gibson said with a laugh. "You just go farm, drive around and make money that you don't have in real life."
If Gibson is able to make a living some day playing football, it will likely be at a different position than wide receiver. NFL scouts project him to play either at tight end or H-back if he makes it at the pro level. Laqua said scouts love Gibson's hands and that he catches the ball away from his body. Gibson has been able to perform at a high level, despite the added attention.
"I don't know if pressure is the right word, but you know everyone is watching you do everything," Gibson said.
What: Concordia-St. Paul at Minnesota State Moorhead
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium
TV: WDAY'Z Xtra