MOORHEAD-Minnesota State Moorhead head football coach Steve Laqua said former Dragons wide receiver Damon Gibson has a lot at stake this week.
"This is the most important week for his NFL future," Laqua said. "It's great that he has a chance to do it."
Gibson has been practicing all week preparing for the East-West Shrine Game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The game is being televised on NFL Network.
That's a big stage for Gibson, who played NCAA Division II football for the Dragons. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound receiver is playing with and against players from Power Five conferences. Gibson is listed as a tight end on the East team, which also features former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.
"He's watched J.T. Barrett play on TV how many times," Laqua said. "Now he's going to catch a ball from him."
While Gibson played wide receiver at MSUM, he's projected to play in a different position if he's able to make it at the pro level. Scouts from multiple NFL teams came through Moorhead last fall during the MSUM football season to evaluate Gibson.
"Basically every NFL team wanted to look at him as a tight end, H-back type guy who could play in the box and block and go into the slot and create some mismatches," Laqua said. "I think he has some raw potential and building blocks to be able to do those things."
Laqua said Gibson would likely have to bulk up to at least 245 pounds to play at the pro level, depending on what a team's specific plans are for Gibson. There is one recent example of a former Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference wide receiver making it to the NFL. Adam Thielen played at Minnesota State-Mankato and is now a Pro Bowl performer for the Minnesota Vikings.
"You know why Adam Thielen made it? He had a relentless motor toward his training," Laqua said. "(Gibson) is going to have to show that kind of fight. If his work ethic is the same as everybody else's, they are going to take the kid from Florida State or Alabama. He's going to have to bring something different to the table. They are going to have to believe in the intangibles."
Gibson had 54 catches for 649 yards and three touchdowns last fall for the Dragons while playing in eight games. He missed three games due to injury. As a junior, Gibson had 90 catches for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns to set the MSUM record for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in a season. The 90 receptions tied a single-season record.
"To have the Dragons decal running around on national television is certainly an exciting thing," Laqua said of Saturday's all-star game. "He's being an ambassador for our university. I would say this is a big deal."
North Dakota State offensive lineman Austin Kuhnert is also playing in the game for the East squad. South Dakota State wide receiver Jake Wieneke, SDSU offensive lineman Jacob Ohnesorge and University of North Dakota safety Cole Reyes are all on the West team.