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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Dalton's Jahmyr Gibbs leaves a pair of Northwest Whitfield defenders behind after making a catch during the intracounty rivals' Aug. 31 matchup at Northwest.
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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Dalton's Landon Allen hands off to Jahmyr Gibbs during a home game against Ringgold in August 2018.

DALTON, Ga. — Matt Land has a daily routine from 2 to 3 p.m. in which he tries to whet the appetite of curious callers eager to get the scoop on Jahmyr Gibbs.

The Dalton High School football coach knows he has something special in his senior running back, who has taken the state of Georgia by fire in the first month of the season.

A 1,400-yard rusher last year, Gibbs has put up video-game numbers through the undefeated Catamounts' first three contests with 829 yards — at 14.5 yards per pop — and a staggering 17 touchdowns. He's on pace, should Dalton make even a decent playoff run, to make a run at immortality.

The state record is 3,172 yards by Washington-Wilkes' Daccus Turman in 2000, 5 yards better than Herschel Walker's previous mark at Johnson County in 1979.

Neither Land nor Gibbs is concerned by such records that, given the Catamounts' level of play, seem unreachable. Turman and Walker were elite athletes at smaller schools, while Dalton plays in Class AAAAAA — the state's second-highest classification — and its remaining games are region affairs in a league that had three teams reach the state quarterfinals in 2018.

Gibbs hasn't come out of nowhere. He rushed for 897 yards as a sophomore, including 200 during a road game against the Harrison Hoyas that was televised by ESPN. The home team's quarterback that night was five-star prospect Justin Fields — who spent his freshman college season at Georgia but transferred to Ohio State this past winter and has quickly become a star for the Buckeyes — but Gibbs' performance put him on the recruiting radar.

He followed that up with 1,431 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last year, leading to a commitment to Georgia Tech.

Everything really ramped up after the Catamounts opened this season with a 62-10 win against Ringgold on Aug. 23, when Gibbs ran for 420 yards (the ninth-best individual rushing performance in GHSA history) and eight touchdowns. He backed that up by rushing for 183 yards and four scores against rival Northwest Whitfield the following Friday, then opened Region 6-AAAAAA play against Sequoyah last week with 226 rushing yards and five touchdowns, with one of the scores a 97-yard kickoff return.

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Staff Photo by Patrick MacCoon / Dalton's Jahmyr Gibbs had the ninth-best rushing performance in GHSA history when he ran for 420 yards in the Catamounts' season-opening win against Ringgold on Aug. 23. He also scored eight touchdowns in the 62-10 victory.

In a state oozing with talent, Gibbs debuted at No. 2 on Georgia High School Football Daily's player of the year watch list this week. It's no wonder Land needs to set aside time just to discuss his star player.

"It's pretty much every day, but when you have a talent like Jahmyr it's going to happen," Land said with a smile after finishing a phone call prior to Wednesday's practice. "He's just special, someone who comes along just every so often."

But, as Land points out, it isn't just natural talent that has landed Gibbs in the spotlight with 23 (and counting) offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs. An offseason of daily workouts transformed the 5-foot-11 Gibbs from an athlete many projected to be a college receiver into a future featured running back.

"Jahmyr played last year at 175 pounds, but he was determined to make himself the best he could possibly be, so he worked to add 20 pounds of muscle this offseason," Land said. "What he's done is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. He's gotten bigger and faster. He could always run outside, but now he's just as good between the tackles.

"But when people ask me what his best attribute is, I always tell them it's his vision. He just seems to see the whole field."

The transformation has led to several highlight-reel runs, with moves from cold-hearted stiff-arms to spins to something last week that caught even Land by surprise.

"He had one run against Sequoyah where he got past the line of scrimmage and had a defender coming at him on an angle," Land said, a grin spreading across his face. "Jahmyr just stops, kind of like Tom Cruise in his jet fighter in 'Top Gun,' and lets the guy go past him. He makes one more move and he's gone.

"I don't know how he even saw the guy, but he just seems to be one or two steps ahead of everybody."

Gibbs, who wants to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark and score at least 30 touchdowns this season, can't explain his sudden rise to state stardom. He quickly praises his offensive line, noting "they have great chemistry and have played together for a while," but when pressed he goes back to the offseason.

"We worked out here at Dalton almost every day and then would go back to my basement and work out some more," he said. "I noticed quickly that I could break more tackles now with the added weight and that I had gotten faster, too. It all came together that first game and now we're rolling."

His gridiron future may or may not include Georgia Tech. He has visits planned to LSU and Ohio State, just two of his offers from Power Five conference programs. Michigan, Mississippi State, Nebraska, South Carolina, Southern California and Texas A&M are among the others.

"It's pretty wide open right now," Gibbs said. "I will know more after I take my visits, but I'm in no hurry. I just want to help lead this team to a region title and a state championship. We've all played together since middle school, and we've talked about this year for a long time and how special it could be."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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