AMES — E.J. Bibbs’ tremendously sure hands can be traced back to his dad, Emmanuel’s, live arm.
That, and an errant throw.
“I wanted to play baseball and he threw a curveball on me, hit me in my shoulder and I said, ‘Hey, that’s it — I’m not playing baseball,’” Iowa State’s highly-productive but soft-spoken tight end said.
One stick-and-ball dream died that day in the family’s Chicago backyard.
Another even harder-edged goal emerged.
“‘I’m going to stick with football,’” Bibbs recalled thinking. “The football came a little slower. He kept throwing the ball to me. I appreciate my dad helping me catch the ball.”
Catching — without the need of a chest protector — is Bibbs’ forte.
He also blocks well, runs solid routes and seems a sure-fire bet for playing weekly on Sundays next fall.
“He’s got such soft hands and can make all the catches — the normal catches as well as the hard catches,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “Because he’s got big hands, he’s got soft hands.”
Bibbs’ recent body of work provides strong testimony to his NFL potential.
The 6-3, 264-pound senior has caught 21 passes for 175 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games.
He’s both a security blanket and big-play threat. A fusion of power and speed.
And those hands. Man, those hands. Hit them — not his shoulder — and the ball finds it’s rightful home.
“It makes you mad when you miss him because the dude, he’s a freak,” said Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson, who hopes to connect with Bibbs and several others in Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 game against No. 19 Oklahoma at Jack Trice Stadium. “Pretty big range where you can throw him the ball and he’s going to come down with it, so it’s frustrating when you miss him, but he makes a lot of great plays for us.”
Without Bibbs’ one-handed scoop of a Richardson pass in the end zone at Iowa, ISU stands 1-6 instead of 2-5.
Without Bibbs, ISU’s offense wouldn’t be operating at the high-scoring level it is right now.
The Cyclones (2-5, 0-4) have scored 82 points the past two games — and the attention Bibbs commands from opposing defenses has opened up opportunities for his outside receivers.
“Certainly quite a bit,” Rhoads said. “One of the first things that every defensive coordinator and secondary coach are looking at every week is catch numbers for the opponent and then breaking that down and, ‘Who’s a go-to guy and so forth,’ and when you can go from right to left and have guys at each of those positions that you say, ‘Oh, they’re throwing it to him, they’re throwing it to him, they’re throwing it to him,’ that opens it up for everybody.”
Bibbs struggled early in the season, shaking off the effects of a knee injury that limited him to 11 catches for 80 yards and a big one-handed touchdown scoop against Iowa in the first four games of the season.
“It was a setback, I ain’t going to lie,” Bibbs said of the injury that was scoped a few weeks before the season started.
From there, though, it was full speed ahead.
Bibbs caught two touchdown passes in the loss at Oklahoma State, one in the win over Toledo, and two in the loss at Texas.
“The guy can cut on a dime,” ISU linebacker Luke Knott said.
Bibbs has become Mr. Clutch — Mr. October, even, which is saying something for a guy who gave up baseball once dad plunked him with a curveball, of all things.
Imagine the damage a fastball could have done.
“He didn’t even have a chance to talk to me,” Bibbs said, remembering the accidental beaning. “I ran to my mom crying.”
That scenario’s hard to imagine now — especially for Bibbs, who Rhoads has dubbed the nation’s top tight end.
But dad is dad and mom is mom. Family reigns supreme in Bibbs’ world. If NFL Draft talk leads to NFL Draft reality, he’s ready. Until then, there are wins to be had and immediate goals to nurture.
He’s an “outgoing” guy according to Rhoads, but one who avoids reporters and shuns the spotlight.
“I’m not that type of guy,” Bibbs said when asked about his frequent escapes from interviews. “I just like playing football.”