Sam Gibas Living F.A.T. Life On, Off the Field at Bethel
While the country waits to fully get back to some sense of normalcy, in Elk River, MN, Bethel University running back Sam Gibas is preparing to lead the Royals to a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in football this fall. Robert Pannier features Sam in today’s profile on the Minor League Sports Report.
Introducing Bethel University Senior Running Back Sam Gibas
Fat. It’s a word that most people don’t like to hear. It’s great to have a “fat” bankroll, but not so great when you need to head to the store to buy pants that are a size or two bigger because you are suddenly noticing that your belly is blocking your view of the numbers on the bathroom scale.
However, not all fat is bad, especially when one thinks of it as the acronym. In the case of Bethel University star running back Sam Gibas, it is the perfect way to describe the soon to be senior. He is definitely F.A.T., living a life dedicated to being faithful, approachable, and teachable. It is his dedication to these principles that has helped Bethel return to glory and has them eyeing a conference championship and possibly a trip to the Final Four.
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. – 1 Corinthians 4:12
Author John Green once wrote, “Some people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,” I said.
“Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.”
This is a perfect quote to describe Sam Gibas. The psychology major has long put his faith and his commitment to being a faithful person as one his top priority. It is part of the reason he chose to attend Bethel in the first place. Not only was it the alma mater of his parents, Jeff and Kelly, but his older brother went to Bethel as well.
However, that was not the primary reason that he wanted to be a Royal. His relationship with God and his commitment to his faith made his selection more a calling than a choice.
“I knew wherever I went coming out of high school that I wanted my choice on where I wanted to go to college to have that faith piece and I really wanted them to walk it out. Coach Johnson and the coaching staff at Bethel are pretty authentic with who they are and that was appealing to me.”
Football had been a huge part of Sam’s life since the second grade, and he had numerous opportunities to continue his passion at colleges and universities across the country. However, it was the love he was shown by his future teammates that helped make the decision to come to Bethel an easy one.
“I thought coming out of high school that maybe I would look to a bigger school to play football at, but I visited the school and stayed with a group of really good guys – Jake Marsh, who was a senior this past year and JJ Wahlquist – and those guys really poured into me and it was a lot different than a lot of other college visits I had at the time and I think, at the time, that had a lot to do with why I chose to go to Bethel.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the Bethel football program, Coach Steve Johnson has made love for each other the foundation upon which the program was built. Initially, it was weird to embrace this way of thinking, but it did not take long for him to jump on board.
“Coming from high school and I had a lot of success my senior year – we won the state championship – and the core fundamentals of my high school program were so much different than Bethel’s. I feel like it was a 180 when I came to Bethel. I thought that initially there was really only one way to win and now I have come to realize that the way the Bethel does it not only fosters great men, but it leads to success.
“You get to build relationships with guys you care about and, by doing that, you’re willing to essentially lay down your life on the field for them. I think that if you have a great relationship with a guy, you can trust him on the field and that trust goes into building great teams. “
This was by no means a one-way street, however. As much as Sam saw Bethel as the perfect fit for himself, the school felt the same about the Elk River (MN) High School graduate. “He was really good. Just a tough guy, but a guy who gets who we are and wanted to be a part of that,” Coach Johnson explained last year during Quick Slants. “He is such a God-centered guy. Someone I hope to be like when I grow up,” he explained with a laugh.
No doubt that Sam Gibas is as tough as it gets. He acknowledges that he is in no way the most skilled athlete on the field on any Saturday, but his commitment to his team, himself, and his God pushes him to give it his all in everything he does, whether it is on an off-tackle play, running drills in practice, or working out in the weight room.
“I just lay it all out there. I am one of the hardest workers, whether it is on the field, in the weight room, or in the film room. I am pretty disciplined in doing the little things right and I think that if you do those little things right collectively, you are going to have success on the field. There are guys that are faster than me, there are guys that are quicker me, there are certainly guys that are bigger than me. I just think that there aren’t a lot of guys that work as hard as me.”
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. – 1 Peter 3:8
Sam Gibas knew that Bethel University was the place for him long before he committed to the school. It was the manner in which his future teammates had “poured into him” even before they were his teammates. However, it was the first time he gathered with his teammates as a member of the program that confirmed he was in the right place.
“I remember when I first came to Bethel, the first meetings, seeing all the returning guys and how happy they were to see each other. That was such a foreign thing to me. I was like, ‘Why are these guys so happy? It doesn’t really make sense, especially for football.’”
It was at that point that he embraced one of the team’s most critical mantras.
“Coach J. has a saying, and that is ‘just jump in,’ and that’s especially true for freshmen. I didn’t know why they felt the way they did but, when I jumped into the program, when I jumped into doing the things that everyone else was doing and I just embraced it, that’s when I got to know why Bethel football is special. Out of that, out of those relationships you form with the players as well as the coaches – that leads to the brotherhood piece of it.”
Being “all in” is extremely important for any member of the team but when you are going to be a key piece to the success of the team, it means even more. The Royals love to run the football, and Sam was going to be the featured guy from Day 1.
As a freshman, he led the team in rushing with 585 yards and six touchdowns on 142 carries, a 4.1-yards per carry average. Whether it was that the team needed one-yard at the goal line or a big seven yard pickup to keep a drive alive, Sam quickly established himself as the guy his teammates could depend upon. He was not oblivious to his importance, nor was he prideful about it.
“I am a competitor. I want as many reps as I can get and, if you give me the ball, I am driven to make that big play. Not just because of how much of a competitor I am, but because of those 10 guys who are on the field who are counting on me. For all my teammates and coaches on the sideline who have poured into me and who want to win, but who also want to see me succeed.”
It is that kind of humble spirit that has made Sam a natural leader almost from the day he stepped into the Bethel “bubble.” Now, as a senior, more is being asked of the running back and he is up to the task.
“By virtue of being a senior, guys are looking up to you in ways that they don’t when you’re an underclassman. I’d like to think I have been in a leadership role last year, the last couple of years but, this year, the ability to kind of guide and direct the team the way you want it to be, the way that the collective seniors want it to go, I think that is really cool. A lot of times, a team is built on the senior leadership, and I really think we have the leadership this year to do some really special things, and that is really exciting to me.”
Sam will be a senior this fall, but he does not see himself as the upperclassman lording over the others on the team. He wants to make sure that he makes himself available as a servant, very much like his ultimate idol – Jesus Christ.
“Our role is to follow as well. Our role is to lower ourselves so the guys beneath us know we are there for them. I want to go to the level to the guy I don’t know very well. Form relationships with those guys because, I know when I was a freshman, the fact that seniors knew my name and the fact that they poured into me, it meant the world. It made me want to play more than them on a Saturday. I want these guys to know they have someone they can always talk to…about anything.”
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverb 19:20
When you listen to the philosophy of Sam Gibas regarding his preparation and dedication to football, you can tell that he has been taught well. It starts with his parents, who he calls “the greatest influence in my life,” and extends to coaches like Coach Johnson and running backs coach Paul Swan. About “Swanee,” Sam explains, “I look up to him. He’s taught me a lot of things about life and about football which has been awesome. He’s been a big influence on my life.”
His parents he credits for beginning to instill specific virtues in him that have helped him to be successful on the football. His mom and dad, along with the coaches he has been blessed to be instructed by, have taught him the fundamentals of success on and off the field. It is lessons he has been delivering to the team since last season ended.
“I think Bethel is always going to have high expectations every single year. We want to win. We want to succeed. MIAC Titles, national appearances and, obviously, the ultimate goal of making a run for the national championship.
“So, it is always on our minds but, something that us seniors have tried to vocalize, is that we need to do the things “right” right now. We need to do things right in the off-season. We need to do the little things right in the summer and, if we do those things right, we don’t need to worry about the outcome. The outcome is going to figure itself out as long as we are disciplined in doing the little things right.
“There are so many little things that make you better. It starts with what are you doing in the weight room, how consistent are you, how much film are you watching. The little things that add up. If you just come to the fall and expect to have a great season, it’s probably not going to happen if you don’t do the things that you should have been doing nine or 10 months ago.”
The challenge has been to keep focused on doing the little things right, especially in these uncertain times when there is some doubt if there will even be a college football season. However, Sam is not letting that be an excuse. This is his moment to teach his teammates that there are ways that they can still do the little things right even if they have to do them in 100 different households.
“So, now with everything going on, it’s just that extra level of discipline. These are uncertain times. We don’t know what the fall is going to look like and so, to be putting in work for something you don’t even know if you’re going to be doing, is also hard at the same time. Our focus has to be the same though. We’re transitioning to a virtual spring ball. We can be on the field but we’re holding meetings. We’re talking with coaches and players daily at this point. Even though it’s not the same community piece that it would normally be, it’s a close second. I’m still pouring into guys. I’m still going over schemes which has been really helpful.”
That connection matters a lot to the senior. He is constantly looking to grow and learn, and sometimes that means being corrected. It all stems from one a saying of Coach Johnson that he has made a personal call to action.
“Write the man you want to be on a rock and stick to it. It speaks to that consistency piece. Reminding yourself everyday who you want to be. How you are walking. If you are not walking the right way, get people around you who are going to speak truth into your life and hold you accountable.”
While Sam has always been a good leader, his experiences and education at Bethel have made a big difference. He feels like he has been taught to be prepared to be leading his team both on and off the field and is feeling blessed by the decision he made to come to the school.
“I’ll be a senior this coming fall, and so I know how important college is but, coming out when I was just a 17, 18-year-old kid, I didn’t know how much weight that held. So, it’s cool to look back at the decision I made and to have such joy that I made that choice.
“It is never like going through the motions, and that’s what I really love so much about Bethel. I’ve gotten so much more out of Bethel than I ever expected off the field. We’ve won a lot of games and that’s great but, at the end of the day, if they aren’t producing men of character and high integrity then there really isn’t any point to it. It’s something that our coaches speak to every day. I think that’s way people care so deeply about Bethel football.”
The Biggest of Them All
At 5-10, 178, Sam Gibas is a rock. In fact, he is likely no more than five percent body fat at most. That has helped him to put up some pretty gaudy numbers in his three seasons as a Royal. In 2018, he rushed for 1092 yards, boasting an impressive 5.2 yards per carry average, while adding nine touchdowns. Last season, Sam was limited to eight games because of injury, but still rushed for 567 yards with a 4.7 yards per carry average. When you add his 149 yards receiving, he posted his second straight season of 700 yards from scrimmage, making it clear that Sam Gibas is quite an impressive physical specimen.
However, he is also F.A.T. A young man who is faithful to his parents, his team, his school, and to his God. A young man who has embraced the way that others have “poured” into him and who now is wanting to be that same kind of man. A man who is embraces learning and who wants to share his wisdom with others. It’s the legacy he hopes he is leaving behind.
“I want to be known as a good football player, not only seeking after excellence in everything I do in football, but also a guy who has a big heart, and that wants to pour into others. That is teachable and wants to teach others. I think that the more that you can pour into the guys around you, the better person you are going to be. I want to be a helper. Someone that guys can go to off the field as well as on the field. I want to be known as a winner. I want to win. I want to win a lot. I am a competitor I care about winning, and I hope that the little things that I do can lead to me getting to the level I want to be at and inspire others to reach for a higher level themselves. I hope that by the way I play that others will want to elevate themselves.”
If there was a scale that measured the traits of faithfulness, approachability, and teachability, there is no doubt that Sam Gibas would be the FATtest of them all.
By Robert Pannier