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Drew Gibbs fosters culture of success and tradition at Ramapo High School

Ramapo High School football coach Drew Gibbs has built one of the most successful programs in New Jersey.

Born in Rutherford, New Jersey native Drew Gibbs and his family moved to Midland Park when he was eight years old. Attending Midland Park High School, sports was always part of the family.

“My Dad was very supportive and coached in all the youth leagues. I went from one sport to the next whether it was football, wrestling, basketball and baseball. As a young person, I loved the change of seasons. When it was baseball, you couldn’t wait to get the glove. When it was the middle of the summer and tired of baseball, you started throwing the football around.”

After graduating from high school, Gibbs attended Gettysburg College for two years. He completed his final two years at Montclair State. In 1985 Gibbs got the opportunity to coach at Ridgewood High School. The following year Gibbs returned to his alma mater Montclair State and coached the tight ends on the football team.

“I fell in love with the (coaching) profession at that time. Working with Coach Johnson gave me direction in life. Coach Johnson has always been a tremendous mentor and role model for me. If you don’t have a great organized structure in a great program, not a lot of good things are going to happen.”

In 1987 went to coach at Kean University as the offensive coordinator. In 1989 he became the youngest head coach in NCAA Football at the age of 27. “I was the interim head coach for a year and didn’t know what I don’t know and certainly learned a lot along the way.” He decided to return to Ridgewood High School as the offensive coordinator in a stint that lasted for a decade. In 2001 Gibbs was named the new head coach at Ramapo High School.

“I took over the program in 2001 after Coach (Mike) Miello had led Ramapo to a state championship season. My first regular-season game was on a Saturday afternoon after 9/11 against Pascack Valley High School, Ryan Pisarri returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and began my first undefeated season and went 12-0.”

In the 19 years Gibbs has been the Ramapo High School Football Head Coach, the Raiders have won seven state championships, four North 1, Group 3 league titles, and back-to-back undefeated 13-0 seasons in 2018 and 2019, including sectional and bowl championships along with a 26-game winning streak. Named the 2019 Football Coach of the Year, Gibbs has totaled 167 wins at Ramapo. He was named North 1, Section 1 Coach of the Year by the NJFCA in 2001 and 2009. He was elected as a member of the New Jersey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014.

“The Football Coaches Association award meant a lot. When your peers recognize the job you did, it’s something that makes me proud,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs credits the hard work of the teachers at Ramapo, athletic director Ron Anello, facilities, Ramapo Athletic Boosters Association, and youth program.

“Ramapo High School is a highly competitive academic school. I am always amazed at what our teachers do in the classroom and the quality of our academic programs. Our kids go to some of the best colleges in the country. When they come back and say it’s hard and they have to put in a lot of hard work in, they also say, ‘I was more prepared than many of my teammates’. That’s probably the number one thing I hear. A credit to our teachers’ and kids in the classroom and able to balance out the athletic and academic commitment”.

“For a student-athlete to come to Ramapo to play football is a no brainer for our guys. Fortunately, we have a lot of guys who stay home and made the decision to be in our program. It breeds success. The more success we have, people realize what a good opportunity they have at home”.

“Ron Anello is the athletic director of all our athletic programs here and is highly successful. Ron does a tremendous job of balancing everyone’s needs here and meeting the needs from an athletic standpoint. It’s one thing to be an athletic director for one team with a high profile, but Ron is juggling a dozen high profile programs here at Ramapo”.

“As a football coach and Ron being a former football coach at a championship level is a huge benefit to me. I can go into his office anytime and bounce stuff off him and talk about things. The great thing is he has never told me what to do but is always here to offer his opinion when I ask for it. He is a great sounding board and a great supporter of the program and me”.

“A very special place, we think back to all the great games that have happened in the past and had tremendous upgrades in the facilities in the last few years. New turf and bleachers, that path down the field has been walked by many teams throughout the years. It’s a special thing. We’re very fortunate to get the student support during this run, and community is so behind this team”.

“You see so many of the same faces come out year after year to support the team. When the team comes down the hill, a lot of the alumni bring their children. We have a bunch of 5, 6, 7 and 8-year-old boys giving the kids high fives as they head on to the field and get our former players to come back and be on the sidelines.”

“All our parents buy into the boosters club. One of the neat things about Ramapo is the programs support one another. Football supports the soccer program as well as soccer supporting football and basketball. We used to have a slogan around here, 26 sports but one team. That’s a big part of our success that everyone in the athletic program pulls for one another. The game at MetLife Stadium, you looked up at the stands we had twice as many as people as the other side.”

“One advantage we have in our community is our kids grow up dreaming of a chance to play on that football field and wear that R on their helmet on a Friday night. They are not here because they are getting a college scholarship and for any other reason than to represent themselves and take that field in front of family, friends, and school.”

To maintain that high level of consistency and a championship culture, it starts at the beginning of every year. Gibbs and his coaching staff start to get the players in top conditioning and playing shape for the upcoming season.

“Myself and Nick Guttuso, the strength conditioning coach, we work the weight room from January until the season starts. That is where the foundation is laid through our strength training program. We’re big on keeping the team together. Supplemented by a gentleman named Brandon Wood, he works with the Parisi Speed School and comes in and does our speed training with our guys.”

“Really from January until June, it’s all about getting our kids into the best athletic condition we can. Once the rules permit, we begin the process of getting on the football field with our kids. Four days a week, two-a-days on the football field with speed conditioning and strength training from June until official practice begins. We do take an 11-day dead period during the middle of the summer and give our kids a chance to get away and go on vacation, but it’s a pretty rigorous schedule”.

For Gibbs, the best part of the job is working alongside his son Brian Gibbs who is the Quarterbacks/Safeties coach and support from his family.

“He has been around football fields ever since he could walk. Some of my first memories are my coaching days at Ridgewood High School. He and Coach Johnson’s son could be seen on film playing their own football game and tackle football on the sidelines. It’s been awesome to share this ride with him. He does a tremendous job and has been around so long. When I got the job he was about ten years old. The program is in his heart. He went to school here and so connected”.

“To have the support of my family, my wife Sharon and daughter Caroline at the games is a big thing. They have made the sacrifices that I do what I need to do here. What I love about our coaching staff is having their families around. On the varsity staff, four of the five guys played here and makes it special.”

Even with Ramapo holding the longest winning streak in the state of New Jersey, that is the last topic Gibbs is concerned about heading into the 2020 season. He called the 2019 playoff run the most challenging and difficult he has been part of with the team being tested every week.

“I don’t give a great halftime speech, but I do talk to the kids every week. When two good teams play against each other, the game is going to be won in the last two minutes. You are going to have to step up and make a play, whether it’s on offense, defense, or special teams and make those plays in crucial moments. So be confident and trust yourself and teammates.”

“There are long seasons when you lose the last one. It’s a tough feeling and you examine the last ball game and sticks with you all season. What you could have done differently and you could have done to prepare your players and strategic moves you need to make for a long, challenging off-season but also gets you fired up for the next year. Fortunately, we have had good feelings for the last few years.

“The winning streak you try to put aside. That’s what you work on all the time is not worrying about it. Every year is a new year. The streak is something I can’t worry about. Whenever it does creep up, we have to put it aside to keep it going and be totally focused on the next game. The minute we start worrying about the streak and not our next opponent is the time it ends.”

With official workouts starting recently, Gibbs says he does miss being around the players and practice field. This is true especially during the month of December since he and the players are together and saw each other every day for four to five months. Now with January upon us, Gibbs is excited about getting back into the weight room and getting started on next year.

“Very satisfying to see the fruits of your labor come to fruition and be re-enforced with the things we are asking our kids to do the concepts we preach to our kids about team. When they follow that road map, good things can happen. The values we are hanging our hat on our program are the right ones. It’s one thing to say Next Man Up, but in order for the next guy to be ready, you have to give them the reps in practice.”

“The one thing I’m very proud of in our program we try to develop every player. The fact that our second string players get the same amount of reps in practice every week that our starters get enables us when we call that Next Man Up. When guys are called upon, they have the tools to step up. From an emotional standpoint, we have given them that confidence to succeed in those situations because it would be on me to put a second-string kid out there and we didn’t prepare him well enough and he wasn’t able to get the job done. That’s my fault.”

“We have been blessed to have a number of skilled players to come through our program year after year. I am satisfied that our system works and allows players to step in and play at a high level. The things you can control are your attitude, effort every day, and that’s our focus on the kids”.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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