Cannon Gibbs knew next to nothing about East Carolina football when the Pirates made contact with him in October at Jones County Junior College in Ellsville, MS.
But after consulting with friends and taking a first-hand look, Gibbs found a home away from home.
An inside linebacker who led the Bobcats in tackles this season, Gibbs joined ECU’s recruiting Class of 2017 on Nov. 2 over other scholarship offers from Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech.
“When I went there on my official visit the coaching staff made me feel so comfortable,’’ Gibbs said. ‘Even though I was 10 to 15 hours from my real home in Mississippi, they made [ECU] feel like home. Plus, I really liked the football atmosphere there, and, of course, there is an opportunity for me to play immediately. Nobody wants to go somewhere they can’t compete for playing time.’’
The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder took an official visit to Greenville on the weekend of Oct. 28. But before deciding to make the trip, Gibbs talked with two people with extensive knowledge about the Pirates.
First, there was current ECU quarterback Gardner Minshew. Gibbs and Minshew were high school rivals in Brandon, MS, where Minshew attended Brandon High and Gibbs went to Northwest Rankin.
The two remained friends and stayed in touch after leaving high school, when both headed to the junior college level.
“Gardner and I talk all the time,’’ Gibbs said. “But when East Carolina started talking to me I obviously got on the phone with him to check it out. It really helped to know somebody who could give me a rundown of what it’s like there.’’
Minshew wasn’t Gibbs’ only resource on ECU. One of his teammates at Jones County is defensive end Markel Winters, who originally signed with the Pirates and spent the 2014 season in Greenville. Winters, who has committed to Mississippi, was dismissed from the ECU program by former head coach Ruffin McNeill in April 2015.
But despite the unpleasant departure, Winters had positive thoughts on East Carolina when consulted by Gibbs.
“Markel loved the place,’’ Gibbs said. “He had nothing but good things to say about East Carolina, and encouraged me to check it out.’’
Gibbs is planning to graduate from Jones County this month and will enroll at ECU in January. He expects to room with his hometown buddy Minshew.
Both grew up in Brandon, a town of about 22,000 located just East of the state capital of Jackson.
Gibbs comes from an athletic family that includes sister Sandison, who is currently a soccer and volleyball star at Northeast Rankin, and older brother Michael. Michael Gibbs was an all-state offensive lineman at Northeast who went on to play collegiately at Hinds Community College and Delta State University.
Michael Gibbs is now in his first year as a graduate assistant coach at Arkansas State.
“I’ve always looked up to my brother,’’ Cannon Gibbs said. “I wanted to be like him. We were competitive, even though he’s a few years older. I always wanted to do everything he did, but I tried to do it just a little better.’’
Gibbs certainly produced a resume at Northeast Rankin to rival his older brother. And his achievements weren’t limited to the football field.
He was a starting midfielder on the Northeast soccer team from his freshman year on, and played for a team that went 18-5-1 and reached the state 6-A semifinals as a senior. Gibbs also played three seasons as a shortstop-pitcher for the varsity baseball team, capping his senior year with a .337 batting average, 23 RBIs and 10 doubles.
Gibbs had enough talent in baseball that he toyed with the idea of playing that in college as well.
“I saw a future in baseball and got recruited a little bit out of high school,’’ Gibbs said. “I considered playing at Jones, but then I started thinking about my high school career. I’d start the year in football and after the last game I’d wake up the next day and start soccer. When soccer was through I’d go straight into baseball. That left me only the summer to work out for football.
“For about 15 years I had played three sports. I decided it was time to focus on just one, and football was the one I loved most.’’
Gibbs put together an impressive career on the gridiron at Northeast Rankin. As a three-year varsity player, he produced 291 career tackles, 25 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Those statistics were good enough to earn a scholarship offer from Football Bowl Subdivision school Louisiana-Monroe.
“Nothing against them, but I wound up taking the junior college route because I thought possibly something better might come along,’’ Gibbs said.
In nine games as a freshman at Jones, Gibbs made 22 tackles and 2.4 tackles for loss. He followed that up with 68 tackles, 7.6 tackles for loss and six sacks this season to earn first-team Mississippi Association of Junior and Community Colleges honors.
Gibbs said he’s been recruited to play inside linebacker for the Pirates. ECU loses one starter, Cam White, at one of its two inside linebacker positions along with top reserve Terrell Richardson.
“I think getting there in January and being able to participate in spring practice gives me the best opportunity compete for playing time,’’ Gibbs said. “I’ll be able to get in there and start studying with [inside linebackers] Coach [Ryan] Anderson and (defensive coordinator) Coach [Kenwick] Thompson. I can start to learn the lingo. That should help me tremendously.’’
While Gibbs will be heading to ECU in January, his Jones County teammate Marques Ford will not be apparently.
Ford, a talented defensive end from Gibsonton, FL, gave a verbal commitment to the Pirates on Nov. 8. But ECU decided to part ways with Ford after it learned a lawsuit has been filed alleging he was involved in a sexual assault of a Rutgers University student.
The suit alleges Ford, who was a Rutgers player at the time, and a teammate, John Bowers, assaulted the accuser in November 2015 after she became intoxicated and too incapacitated to give consent. The players were subsequently suspended from the team and both transferred to other schools.
Ford was ECU’s highest-ranked commitment. His departure now leaves the recruiting class at 19.