Sibrian's position change has paid off for Sherman
The focus was just to get back on the field for the start of his senior season.
It was the biggest thing on Nolbert Sibrian’s mind. This was months before the Bearcats were about to undergo a coaching change and the domino effect it would have on a lineman about to switch sides in the trenches and make an impact at a new position in a season full of newness at Sherman.
The transition from defensive end to tackle, all while recovering from a major knee injury, shows a long-term selflessness which has become a pillar for a program heading in a new direction.
All of this would come much later, almost a year after Sibrian was lying on the 15-yard line at Munson Stadium.
It is the first game of his junior season, and his first start is coming in the Battle of the Ax. After the Bearcats take a 6-0 lead on their opening drive, Sibrian takes his spot at left defensive end.
The first snap by Denison at its 20-yard line is probably as expected. It is a run up the middle by Jadarian Price for three yards. Sibrian tries a spin move to the outside as a linebacker blitzes to his right.
It is the second snap, however, that changes everything. This time Denison passes, and Sibrian again heads around the edge. At first glance it looks like he gets blocked to the ground as Caleb Heavner steps up in the pocket, scrambles and is stopped for no gain.
Before the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage is done moving, the referee has leaned over Sibrian and then waives to the Sherman sideline for trainers to come assist the injured Bearcat.
That was the extent of Sibrian’s season. Just like that, two plays and it was over – on his third step his left knee gave out and he crumpled to the ground after tearing his ACL and meniscus.
“It sounded like a water bottle crunching. My heart dropped when I knew I’d be out for the season. I couldn’t do anything except watch on Fridays,” Sibrian said. “It was pretty heartbreaking. I had grinded all summer to earn my spot.”
As Sherman (3-3, 1-1), which has its bye this Friday before traveling to Longview next week, ended up tied for second place, Sibrian was on his own schedule, one involving rest and recuperation.
“Since my injury was so early in the season that was a pro to it,” Sibrian said. “I could work to be ready for senior year. They said it would take 6-10 months. I had to wait a month just to get the surgery because I had to have full range of motion first.”
He started rehab days after going under the knife. There were therapy sessions three times a week for six months.
“I was cleared for everything besides contact in May, fully cleared around Fourth of July,” Sibrian said.
Before he got to that point, however, things changed again.
Head coach J.D. Martinez left to take the same position at Bridgeport in the middle of April. Three weeks later Cory Cain was hired to lead Sherman. And the new boss ended up having a new plan for Sibrian.
“When I first got here, he said ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to.’ We asked what we wanted to do and he said he was a defensive end,” Cain said. “I saw him and thought he was an offensive lineman. He has great feet. He’s taken to it really well.”
Cain and offensive line coach Preston Gill saw Sibrian’s potential to fill one of the three openings on the offensive line due to graduation. He initially saw only the past.
“My response was – ‘I don’t know about that one coach,’” Sibrian said. “I started last year and everything I did was with defense. Always been a defensive guy. I think I played offense two snaps on JV because someone got hurt but I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Over the summer the new coaching staff had everyone play a position on both sides of the ball to get a sense of where guys might fit and if there needed to be position changes. By the time the August rolled around, the start of fall camp saw only one move from the prior season get made out of necessity.
“If you’re a big guy you want to play defensive line to get sacks, a scoop-and-score,” Cain said. “Nobody really wants to be an offensive lineman. People want to play offense and be skill kids to score touchdowns.”
Instead of chasing quarterbacks now Sibrian was being tasked with protecting one. He swapped jersey numbers, going from 90 to 51, and settled in at right tackle.
“The coaches are coaches for a reason,” Sibrian said. “I’ll just play my butt off and see what happens.”
It was less than a month until the opener and the crash course began. In the back of his mind he worried about his knee, if he was fully healthy and how it would hold up, despite the brace now protecting it. He had an idea of what the end lining up across from him might do, because he was that end not long ago.
“Everything was so new,” Sibrian said. “Five weeks in I’m still learning. I learn something every day.”
As the Bearcats head into the final month of the season, seeking to earn a playoff spot again, Sibrian will be involved like he thought he would last year. It comes at a different position and from a different perspective. He may now be a protector instead of a destroyer but he has found success in this unfamiliar role.
“The biggest thing was he accepted it and trusted us,” Cain said. “He’s reaping the benefits because he’s playing pretty well.”