PENDLETON -- It wasn't that long ago that Kyle Gibas was hanging with the wrong crowd, cutting school and listening when people told him he'd never accomplish anything important.
Fast forward three or four years.
Gibas, a senior wrestler at Starpoint, has turned himself into a good student through hard work. He's now focused on trying to become a state champion next month at 189 pounds, maybe taking the mat for the University at Buffalo next season, then some day becoming a teacher.
You've come a long way, baby.
"It's great to screw off and have fun. Everybody likes to have fun," said the 18-year-old Gibas, a 6-footer who transferred from Lockport High School following his sophomore year. "We were talking about me having to drop out of school, that's how bad my grades were. It was pretty bad for a while. . . . But one day I want to be able to say I'm really happy with myself and have become something nobody thought I'd be. I want to be unique."
The right road started when Gibas moved in with his grandparents, Carl and Janey Gibas, a retired couple living in Pendleton. Following his parents' divorce, he had been living with his mother Cindy, whose work commitments forced her to be away from her son more than she wanted.
"When I moved here I decided I was going to start over and start coming uphill," said Kyle. "I kind of went with the wrong people. Though I never really got into any trouble I was definitely headed that way. I'd miss a couple of days of school and my grades were suffering tremendously. I just decided I didn't want to do that any more. I didn't want to go down the wrong route."
Gibas is quick to point out that the bad decisions of his past were not the fault of his parents. He says both parents -- his father Carl is a Buffalo Police Officer -- support him in every way possible.
In fact, Kyle and his father attended the Tournament of Champions wrestling event in Columbus, Ohio, last summer. Kyle heard a ruckus in the hotel lobby and became aware that someone had taken off down the street after snatching a woman's wallet.
Kyle chased the thief, caught up with him a few blocks later and held the man until police arrived. "He could have had a gun or a knife, so maybe it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done," he said.
Buckling down in the classroom, on the other hand, was one of the best decisions he's ever made. Gibas has an average in the high 80s and is looking forward to his upcoming ACT and SAT testing.
He's been an even bigger success athletically. Gibas was named a first-team All-Western New York football player last fall. The Class A North Defensive Player of the Year was also tabbed a third-teamer on the All-State squad after registering a school-record 15 sacks from his defensive end spot.
But he's prepared to walk away from football and concentrate on wrestling, a sport he didn't participate in until ninth grade. And only then it was because of the influence of his second cousin Ryan Needle, a three-time state champion who set the Section VI record for career victories with 240 while at Newfane who now wrestles at 141 for UB. Gibas has applied to UB and would love to follow in Needle's footsteps with the Bulls. Cortland State and Brockport State have also shown interest in Gibas.
"You can see that hunger in his eyes," said Starpoint coach Mike Luick. "His intensity has really picked up. He was an unknown before last year but getting to the state meet got him on a lot of people's radar. He's a leader because the other guys see his work ethic and it rubs off on them."
After going 52-10 at Lockport, Gibas came out of nowhere to finish fourth in the Division I state championships at 189 last winter and this season boasts a 25-1 record. His lone defeat came against St. Francis' Brian Haas, 3-2, in the final of the 26th annual Niagara County Community College-Niagara Frontier Official's Association Tournament. Gibas had defeated Haas, 2-1, and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Maryvale Tournament in December. Gibas, who has won the ECIC championship already this season, lost only three times as junior with two of those defeats coming at the state meet.
"He would still be considered a raw talent for wrestling," Luick said. "He's still learning different positions on the mat, which way his body should go. But he's athletically blessed with above average balance and strength. So when he does get in bad positions he's able to get out of them. He's mastered just a few moves but he's so gifted with his body in space that he's able to beat his opponents like that. His desire not to lose drives him and he's very coachable."
It sure helps Gibas to have a teammate like C.J. Regnet, who is 29-2 at 171 pounds. The two have some intense battles in practice.
"He hates to lose, he never, ever stops," said Regnet. "He's just like a machine that keeps going and going. I don't think I've ever gone against a harder wrestler than Kyle."
As for the not-so-good old days . . .
"All the kids I did hang out with ended up dropping out of school, going to jail or doing drugs," Gibas said. "It's almost like I've gotten a second chance because God was there to keep me from going that route. I really thank Him for that because I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't gotten that second chance."