In high school football, special teams can be an afterthought.
Not at St. Augustine. Not for safety Eavan Gibbons.
The solidly built 5-foot-10, 185-pound Gibbons starts on defense for the Saints, is the backup running back to Byron Cardwell, and is also special teams captain.
“Any way I can help the team,” Gibbons said. “Special teams are so overlooked, especially in big games.”
For the Saints, games don’t get any bigger than Friday’s Holy Bowl at rival Cathedral Catholic.
The game is a Western League first-place showdown and has major playoff ramifications. Rankings add to the drama. In the weekly Union-Tribune poll, Cathedral Catholic (7-1) is ranked No. 2 in the San Diego Section and St. Augustine (6-1) is No. 3.
“Not only is this a huge rivalry, there is a lot on the line,” Gibbons said. “Both teams compete at a high level. Both teams want to show the county who’s best.
“And the bragging rights are huge.
“It’s kind of like the Army-Navy game.”
Gibbons knows all about the Army-Navy rivalry.
His father, Andrew, is a captain in the Navy, a veteran of 28 years.
Determined to play in college, Eavan is looking at Ivy League schools, particularly Yale, but lists the military academies of Navy, Air Force and Army — closely in that order — as his dream schools.
USD, Davidson and the University of Chicago — all top academic schools — are also on his list.
“The academies are the best combination of academics and athletics,” Gibbons said.
According to the Battle Prep West website, Gibbons is a combination of speed and power.
His report reads: “Big-play, hard-hitting safety. Flies around the field. Excellent against the run.”
Gibbons, who runs a speedy 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had 113 tackles, 81 solos, 10 tackles for losses and an interception for the Saints last season.
The senior is on pace this season with 49 tackles, seven tackles for losses, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Playing both free and strong safety, he has also turned into a ball hawk with a section-leading six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
“You’re taking on tight ends, so you have to be more physical as a strong safety,” Gibbons said.
“At free, I can play the ball, make reads, roam the field.
“I’m big on tackling technique. I like to explode through a tackle with my legs. Plus, I think I have closing speed. I bring effort, and I think, intelligence, to every play.
“And the best thing is that I don’t have to deal with big old linebackers or 300-pound defensive linemen when I’m at free.”
A student of the game, Gibbons is heavy into film study.
The St. Augustine coaches, who run spirited practices, film every practice, send notes to the players off those films, and ask them to put in film study.
Studying has never been a problem for Gibbons.
He carries a 4.24 GPA and scored 1,220 on the SAT exam with a goal of 1,300.
He’s looking at majoring in engineering in college.
“I’m good at math,” Gibbons said. “I’m taking AP calculus, so I like problems.
“Math allows you to think and create.
“I love problem-solving.”
He also loves football, patterning his game after NFL safeties Eric Weddle and Harrison Smith.
“Football is the best game out there,” said Gibbons, who also plays lacrosse. “Football is about relationships. People are the key in this game.
“It’s about preparation. Anyone can talk a good game, but to be successful, you have to prepare to make big plays.
“I’m a student of the game. I could watch football 24 hours a day.”
Gibbons says he watches the NFL on Monday night, Thursday night and all day Sunday.
Saturday is college football.
“Eavan does a lot of things for us … defense, special teams, and he’s our backup running back,” said Saints coach Joe Kremer. “He’s fast. He’s smart. He plays great in space.
“And he’s the captain of our special teams.
“He’s an invaluable part of our team.”
Who: Parochial school rivals St. Augustine vs. Cathedral Catholic
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Cathedral Catholic
Records: Saints (6-1, 1-0 Western League); Dons (7-1, 2-0)
Series: Dons lead 34-22