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Men’s Interhall: Injuries force players to become coordinators

Matt Gamber | Friday, November 16, 2007

When seniors Matt Gibson and Rick Loesing underwent surgeries this summer to repair basketball-related leg injuries, they both thought their Interhall football careers were over.

They were right – sort of.

Keenan’s Gibson and Stanford’s Loesing have both assumed the all-important position of offensive coordinator for their respective teams and will square off, albeit from the sidelines, in the Interhall championship on the line Sunday in the Stadium.

Gibson tore a ligament in each ankle playing Interhall football and Bookstore Basketball and required a pair of surgeries, one in May and one in August, to fix the damage.

Though he realized he’d be unable to suit up this fall, he “just wasn’t ready to leave the guys [he] had spent three years playing with,” he said.

Loesing starred at running back and was Stanford’s captain a year ago, but he tore his ACL in a pick-up game of hoops this summer and underwent surgery shortly thereafter. He had an eye on this year’s roster, however, knowing it’d be “a real solid team” of which he’d still want to be a part.

“Last year, my impact was based more on my actual performance,” Loesing said. “I’m relying now not on my physical ability to help the team, but more on my intellectual talents and my ability to see a defense and make decisions based on what other teams are throwing at us.”

For both rookie coaches, stepping into the pressure-packed and oft-criticized role certainly didn’t come without its challenges: namely, an utter lack of experience.

“Does Madden count?” Gibson said with a laugh when asked about his previous play-calling history. “This is my first time calling plays, and there’s definitely been a huge learning curve. I’ve said you’ve got to have mistake-free football; well, you’ve also got to have mistake-free coaching. I’ve definitely made my mistakes this year, but I’m getting better and the team’s behind me, which helps a lot.”

Despite some early struggles, Gibson and Loesing have each found their groove; if they hadn’t, their teams wouldn’t still be playing. Both contrasted their time on the field to their new roles on the sidelines.

“Now I have to see the big picture and focus on what’s happening with everyone on the offense,” Gibson said. “There’s so many little things you have to focus on that you don’t even realize when you’re in the heat of the game. When you really sit back and watch, there’s just so much going on that every play can depend on one little thing.”

Loesing said he’s becoming “more and more comfortable every week.”

“Having played [for Stanford], I already knew what had worked for us in the past and what our strengths were,” he said. “So that definitely has given me an insight into what kind of plays to call.”

Stanford senior captain Rob Huth called Loesing an asset to a team that has lacked organization and leadership in recent years but has been rejuvenated thanks to a strong group of senior leaders and Loesing’s steady sideline presence.

“It’s a lot harder than people realize to call plays in a game,” Huth said. “You’ve got to have the situational awareness of where you are on the field and in the game … then you have to get the right play-call in. He had a bit of a slow start, but he’s doing a real solid job for us.”

While both Gibson and Loesing were forced to trade in their helmets and shoulder pads for clipboards and headsets (make that hand signals – it is still Interhall, after all) before they may have liked, they are now living every Monday Morning Quarterback or NCAA ’08 player’s dream of calling their own game – with real players, in real time, and with real results.

“This isn’t a video game,” Gibson said of what makes coaching a “great but stressful” experience. “Every decision matters because these are real people you’re calling plays for. I can’t reset the game for all 24 of my players if I make a bad play call. One mistake can take you out of the game. It’s a pressure-packed situation, but I thrive on it.”

In Sunday’s big game, both coaches will face emotions that will be running higher than ever before. Loesing’s key will be to avoid getting “flustered” when presented with new looks from a Keenan defense sure to make adjustments after the Griffins topped the Knights 12-8 to close out the regular season.

“We’ll have to see what Keenan does,” said Loesing, whose offense got strong play from junior quarterback Brian Salvi and senior tailback Tregg Duerson in the win over Keenan. “I’ll have to talk to the offense after the first series and see what’s looking good.”

Gibson’s offensive philosophy will remain the same as it has all season: Run the football. Juniors Alex Gonzalez and Brett Wilps should see plenty of action, as both Keenan running backs pose viable threats out of the backfield.

“We’re focused on what got us here, and that’s running the ball and playing good defense,” Gibson said. “We like to control the game on both sides of the ball, sustaining drives on offense and holding teams on defense.”

So while the game plan is to approach the championship game just like any other, Gibson knows better. Having played center on Keenan teams that made trips to the Stadium in his first two years – including a championship in his freshman season – Gibson is looking to end his Interhall career with what he calls “a return to normalcy”: in other words, reclaiming the title the Knights last won three years ago.

“There’s no feeling like walking out onto that field, whether it be as a player or now as a coach,” Gibson said. “It’s really a great feeling to still be involved with the game and know that I can still play a role in the success of the team. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, except for maybe the ability to play in this game.”