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BIG Cheese
Tim Crothers
February 22, 1999
The Badgers Aaron Gibson pruned his weight to 371 and blossomed into a bulldozer of a blocker who probably will be the first lineman taken in the NFL draft
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February 22, 1999

Big Cheese

The Badgers Aaron Gibson pruned his weight to 371 and blossomed into a bulldozer of a blocker who probably will be the first lineman taken in the NFL draft

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Says Iowa's All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jared DeVries, "Facing that guy is like trying to run around a mountain, except that this mountain moves"

Wisconsin completed a surprising 11-1 season—the most wins ever by the Badgers—by rushing for 343 yards in a 38-31 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl. "There were plays during that game when I became totally hidden behind number 79," says the 255-pound Dayne, a junior who ran for 246 yards against the Bruins. "Then as soon as he cleared my view, all that was left was a lot of daylight and a scared safety 10 yards downfield."

Long gone was the Gibson who was afraid of hurting opponents. During the season Gibson and his linemates often reviewed game films, slowing down the tape and cackling at the carnage inflicted upon the defense. "Sometimes it's hard to believe that's another human body you're doing that to," says Gibson, who was a finalist for the Lombardi and Outland awards. "Football is a fun way to be violent because it's almost like the defense is asking for some pain. It's a weird thrill to drive somebody down the field and flip him over on his back."

Says Alvarez, "Aaron can be so overpowering that he caves down an entire side of the line—out guys, their guys and anybody else unlucky enough to get in his way."

While playing his senior season at 371 pounds, Gibson set school weightlifting records with a 750-pound squat and a 500-pound bench press. He has a 31½-inch vertical leap, so he can dunk a basketball. He has won countless bets by arranging two benches several feet apart, placing a leg on each one and doing a split between them, a surreal trick he borrowed from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie. Gibson also points out that his regular workout includes two sets of 20 push-ups, which he performs routinely. "Players over 300 pounds are either fat slobs or genetic freaks," Dettmann says. "This is a guy who could be a world-class powerlifter. He's incredibly agile, and he can make the man across from him look like he's on roller skates. But what really brings the pro scouts to the edge of their seats is that he hasn't come close to reaching his potential."

While considering a jump to the NFL last spring, Gibson stunned scouts by running a 5.3 in the 40. One national scouting service gave him the highest possible pre-draft rating: 8.0. On Feb. 18, Gibson returns to Indianapolis for the start of the five-day NFL combine, where he hopes to nail down a spot early in the first round of the April 17 draft. Despite the potential fame and fortune that await him in the pros, he's still eager to reach the point where he's less noticeable. "I've grown up being different," he says. "Sure, I want to be a dominant player in the NFL, but I'm also hoping for a time when I'm never again viewed as an outcast because of my size."

One of Gibson's proudest moments at Wisconsin occurred last April during spring practice. He had dedicated a year of conditioning to the hope that he could finally pull on the size 56 sport coat, and in his photo in the 1998 game program, he was dressed just like all of his teammates. For that one moment at least he brushed away the stigma of all those skating rinks and bowling alleys and amusement parks. Staring at that mug shot, the gentle giant sheepishly admits that outside the frame of the picture the jacket's hemline barely reached his belt and the sleeves barely covered his forearms, but that's not the point. Gibson fit in.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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