Source: Ben Spicer | Daily TimesEthan Gifford on signing with the University of Charleston football program.
After serving as a quarterback during his freshman year with the East Tartans’ football program, Ethan Gifford watched as his father, James, took over the head coaching duties from Todd Gilliland in 2015.
So, status quo, right?
Knowing what was best for not only his son, but the East football program, James advised Ethan that a move to linebacker and fullback would be ideal if the latter wanted to accomplish his dream of becoming a student-athlete at the collegiate level.
“I told him, ‘Ethan, do you want a chance to play college football and become a great high school football player?’ He said, ‘Yea.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re not going to be playing quarterback,’ Gifford said. “He goes, ‘Where do I play?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be playing linebacker and fullback.’”
So the son followed the advice of the father — and through hard work and dedication, truly soared as a two-way force for the Tartans over his final three seasons of action.
Now, Gifford will get the chance to soar as a Golden Eagle, thanks to his work in the classroom and on the gridiron.
The soon-to-be-graduating senior, who holds a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society to boot, signed with the University of Charleston (W. Va.) to continue his football career and fulfill a lifelong dream in the process.
For James, the accomplishment is sweet enough as a head coach considering that Ethan is the fourth football player of the Class of 2018 to make his plans official — with fellow classmate Blaine Scott already having signed with West Virginia and Brady Douthat, along with Justin Kritzwiser, pursuing careers in the military (with Douthat also planning to walk on at Cincinnati).
However, as a father, there’s no question that Ethan’s signing is the one that touches Gifford’s heart the most.
“From a coaching standpoint, it feels as good to see Ethan sign as it does to see Blaine Scott, Tyler Gerald, Justin Crager, and Sam Elliott,” James said. “I’m pretty proud of the staff that has been put together here at East. They have really pushed these kids to not just care about football, but to care about going to college and obtaining a degree so that they can become productive in life, enjoy their life, and become good husbands and fathers. From that standpoint, it’s awesome. From a Dad standpoint, it’s the first time that I have gotten to experience it. My Dad always told me what it was like when I got a scholarship. I didn’t understand it then, but I understood it this morning. It’s a very emotional deal. It’s a lot of fun.”
And understandably, the scholarship brings a great deal of pride to Ethan, not only because the young man gets to join his girlfriend, 2017 Wheelersburg graduate Samantha Vallance — who just finished up her freshman volleyball campaign at Kentucky Christian — or his father, who played at Appalachian State for a year before having to quit due to injury — but because of the accomplishments that Gifford, who accumulated over 250 tackles in his high school career as a linebacker for a program that went 25-9 over his final three years of play, has obtained on his own.
“I’m just proud of myself,” Ethan said. “I’ve been through so much in my life growing up and going through pee-wee, junior high, and high school ball. It feels amazing to be able to sit at that table, sign that paper, and be like, ‘Man, Charleston wants me, they believe in me, and they are giving me enough respect to come to their program and be able to produce my athletic abilities so that I can be able to contribute to the team, and hopefully, win a ring one day.’”
Over the course of his high school career, Gifford has been nothing less than a standout for East on his way to putting up major numbers. In addition to his 4.0 GPA and National Honor Society marks in the classroom, Gifford has translated his overall IQ onto the football field en route to becoming a menacing linebacker, as the 6-0, 225 senior has made at or over 70 tackles in each of his last three seasons while averaging nearly five sacks a year for the Tartans.
But by moving from the position that is so revered in football to one that doesn’t get as much of the front-page glory or the top headlines, Gifford had to sacrifice — and successfully did so by pushing himself both inside and outside of practice. Like Scott, Ethan was a regular visitor at apPrep in Chillicothe — a performance facility that has generated high reviews from the vast majority of its consumers.
“Ethan lives in the weight room,” James said. “He loves it. He works out at school with his team, then he goes home, works out again and runs. We go to apPrep in Chillicothe, and I’m telling you right now, apPrep, if you want to get bigger, faster, and stronger, is great. Jason Prater and his team have done a great job. They’ve been very good with Ethan and have made him into the player that he is.”
As a result of Gifford’s work, East’s defense has improved as a whole as Ethan, along with his father, have helped lead a defensive transformation in Sciotoville. Over the past four years, the Tartans went from giving up 34.7 points per contest in 2014 and 31.5 points in 2015 to 15.7 points per affair in 2016 and 19.5 points per contest in 2017. Gifford’s 85 tackles, six sacks, and two interceptions in 2016, along with his 90-plus tackle season to go along with four sacks and two interceptions in 2017, were vital in said improvement — and East’s first playoff victory, which came in a thrilling 12-6 win over Waterford.
“That’s a major compliment to Ethan and his hard work,” James said. “When Charleston wanted information for his (online) bio, it really put things into perspective. In our home, stats aren’t something that we really talk about. We care about winning games and being productive. But when we wrote his stats down today, it was like, ‘Wow.’ He doesn’t talk about stats, but whenever you look at it and put it into perspective, he’s definitely been a contributor for East.”
“It’s great knowing what we have done over the past three years,” Ethan said. “We have made the playoffs in each of the past three years, and each time, we got closer and closer. The score doesn’t seem like it, but we’ve gotten closer together and worked as a team. We really came together as a team in our playoff victory (against Waterford). We communicated. We did the little things right. We weren’t selfish. We just went out there and played good football.”
At Charleston, Ethan is expected to continue to contributor at either the Will or Mike linebacker spots for the Golden Eagles, who held opponents to 25 points or less in all but two games in its 3-4 defensive look — including 19 points or less in six of those eight contests. Jalen Nelson, Luke Sears, and Keon Mabin — who are each of junior eligibility and are linebackers at UC, a Mountain East Conference competitor in the NCAA Division II ranks — finished in the top-11 in tackles on the team, with Nelson and Sears placing in the top half-dozen. Each will be back to show Gifford the ropes in 2018.
“They’ve got two or three great upperclassmen linebackers that Ethan can go in and learn from,” James said. “The reality is that he’s going to be playing against 23, 24, 25-year olds, and he’s only going to be 19. If he’s got to wait his turn to be bigger, stronger, and faster, that’s ok. We’re excited about him learning from those guys.”
But even if a position change is required of Ethan, the senior says that he is definitely open to the adjustment. And with 518 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns on 58 total touches from his fullback slot, it’s clear that the senior can certainly produce on offense if need be.
“Defense is my favorite,” Ethan said. “I like to hit people. It’s fun to do that. But if I need to play on the offensive side of the football instead, I’ll play there. Whatever is best for the team is what I’ll do.”
“He could be the Will linebacker or the Mike,” James said. “It just kind of depends. We’re hoping linebacker works out, but there’s even been talk of him playing fullback if there was a change there.”
However, his academic work in high school is what truly paid off. In fact, Ethan’s excellence in the classroom is what will pay for the vast majority of his experience at Charleston and what will ultimately pave the way for Gifford to establish a career in Business Management or Sports Management.
“When it’s time to work, it’s time to work,” Ethan said. “I just try to tell every student, ‘Yes, it stinks to have to do homework, such as a five to ten-page paper, but you just have to buckle down and get it done. Go to school and get your stuff done.”
“Ethan’s a hyperactive kid,” James said. “Even on the football field, you’ll tell him to shoot the A-gap, and he’ll say, ‘Why do you want me to shoot the A-gap? If I hit the A-gap, then this guy does this, and if he goes here, what happens?’ It’s like ‘Ethan, just do it, man!’ I remember the YMCA days of soccer, and now, here he is, signing a scholarship today that is worth $160,000 in four or five years, and is as much academic as it is athletic.”
However, while keeping up with academic work is a must, it’s also nice to pursue a passion on the side in order to see where one can go with it in the future. And Ethan Gifford will get to do that, thanks to his own work ethic and the respect that he has for his father.
“I can’t thank my Dad enough for what he’s done for me,” Ethan said, tearing up. “It’s been tough, having him as a coach and hearing others say that I got my opportunities because he is the head coach, but he has been great. He’s really pushed me and he’s done as much as he can for me. It’s been a blessing having him as a coach.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT