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All-Metro boys soccer player of the year: Gibbs pushes through knee injury to keep Fort Zumwalt South on top

From the 2021 All-Metro boys soccer series
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Karson Gibbs could have remained on the sidelines this season. No one would have blamed the Fort Zumwalt South High soccer star.

Instead, Gibbs chose the path of most resistance. With two partially torn menisci in his left knee, the forward took the field and played through the pain, understanding how much there was to gain.

“I just hoped it wouldn’t get any worse,” said Gibbs, who suffered the tears over the summer during his club season.

Gibbs’ decision to play couldn’t have produced better results. The Bulldogs (25-3) won their final 15 games to earn their second consecutive Class 3 state championship and their third in four years.

The Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys soccer player of the year for the second successive season, Gibbs registered 28 goals and 13 assists. The two-time All-American finished his remarkable career with 113 goals and 53 assists, powering Fort Zumwalt South to a 94-18 record.

Gibbs acknowledged his speed tailed off this season because of the knee discomfort, but his instincts and steely resolve served him well.

“I could tell throughout the entire season that I wasn’t as fast as last year. Last year, I finished the ball more,” said Gibbs, who had 49 goals and 15 assists as a junior when the Bulldogs were 23-4. “But considering what I had to go through with my leg, and not being able to run completely … it was pretty cool that I got to do what I did. It was good to finish the season off the way we did."

Layne said a physically compromised Gibbs was still a genuine weapon for the Bulldogs.

Opposing teams had to account for his presence, and teammates’ confidence level soared knowing Gibbs was on the field with them.

“We knew he wasn’t going to be 100 percent,” Layne said. “The crazy part about it is I think there were days when Karson was out there running around at 50 or 60 percent of what Karson is. For him to still have the year that he did is absolutely incredible. He wasn’t as explosive as what he’s been in the past, but he was able to somehow get through it. He’s the ultimate competitor.”

Gibbs had one goal and three assists Nov. 19 as Fort Zumwalt South erased an early deficit to defeat Van Horn 4-2 in a Class 3 state semifinal. The Bulldogs then fell behind Ladue in the championship game the next day, but Gibbs scored the tying goal in the second half before senior Ryan Harvatin’s penalty kick gave them a 2-1 victory.

“I remember we went down 1-0 (against Ladue) and I was thinking to myself, ‘Stay calm,’ ” Gibbs said, recalling that it was the third consecutive game in which the Bulldogs had fallen behind 1-0. “I had to make sure I helped my team stay calm in that situation and continue to keep the ball, possess it and do what we do as a team. Scoring the tying goal — especially my senior season, (in the) state final, to get the team going — was pretty special.

“It really was the whole team. I didn’t see a single kid out there get nervous, get frantic. We all stayed calm and did what we did.”

Layne is a “glass half-full” type of person when it comes to analyzing Gibbs’ statistics. Yes, they were off the sizzling pace of last season, but the circumstances have to be evaluated.

“Some might look at it as him not getting to the level he was as a junior,” Layne said. “I would think of it the other way around. Given what he was trying to overcome — the injuries that he had — he actually achieved more this year than what he did last year.

“He’s always been a big-game player; he always wants to shine in a big game. It’s really hard to find those types of players. When we needed something to happen, he made it happen. Karson never got rattled. He stayed calm and composed. When opportunities came, he made the best of them. That’s what separates Karson from the others.”

Gibbs, the son of Brandon and Jen, underwent surgery to repair the knee three days after the state championship game. He will join the St. Louis City under-23 developmental team in the spring. Gibbs said his younger brother, Ryley, also will join St. Louis City. Ryley is a sophomore at Fort Zumwalt South.

“I’ll definitely miss (high school), but you’ve always got to move on to bigger and better things,” Karson Gibbs said. “What I’ll remember about all this is how much fun it was to go out there and play high school. For the majority of my high school seasons, I was with the same guys. Being able to create that bond over these four years was the most special part. Being able to go back to back and win three out of four state championships was a great way to finish off my high school career.”

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