Josh Gibson was a 14-year-old freshman when he broke into the starting lineup of the O'Fallon Panthers baseball team two years ago..
Jumping in at the varsity level had its growing pains, of course. But he didn't have to make that conversion on his own.
"I remember guys who were seniors that year, Camden Bauer and Brad Harrison, they took me under their wing and really taught me a lot about the game," Gibson said. "They helped get me through the season. They told me to always go hard, always give my best effort. That's the way I play the game.''
The advice given by Bauer and Harrison, now a two-way player for the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has served Gibson well in his first 2 1/2 years in the Panthers program.
An honorable-mention all-area selection at second base as a freshman when he finished with an average of .309 with 14 RBIs, Gibson made the transition to the left side of the Panthers infield. Last year, he established himself as one of the top shortstops in the metro-east.
Making only six errors in 130 chances, Gibson also helped ignite the Panthers offense with a career-high .371 average with three home runs and 18 RBIs while earning second-team all-area honors. O'Fallon was 32-6 overall and 12-2 in the Southwestern Conference.
In 2018, O'Fallon and Gibson have elevated their play. Currently 22-1-1 following SWC victories over Alton and Belleville West earlier this week, the Panthers are in control of the league with a 9-0 record.
Enjoying another solid season at the plate, Gibson is hitting .348 on a team loaded with offense.
"This is the best we've been in my three years at O'Fallon,'' Gibson said. "The reason is that we've got such good depth. We've got guys who can play several positions. We've got good pitching and we've got a very strong offense. We've got players coming off the bench who could start for other teams.''
Although he still has another year of high school, Gibson's college choice was made more than a year ago when he gave a verbal commitment to Missouri State.
Gibson is one of three SWC standouts who have announced their college choices early in their high school careers. Edwardsville sophomore Drake Westcott committed to play at Louisville last year while Belleville East freshman Drew Gray announced last week that he will attend Arkansas.
"It was just a place I really liked the first time saw it,'' Gibson said of Missouri State, located in Springfield. "I went down for a camp, liked the coaches and the facilities and just thought it was a place where I could be happy, get an education and play ball at a very strong college program.''
Gibson comes from an athletic family. His dad, Brian Gibson, played baseball at Belleville East and later went on to play in college. With a bat, a ball and a glove in his hands for as long as he can remember, Josh Gibson's love for the sport started early.
He shares his name with baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, a star of the old Negro Leagues believed by some to be one of the greatest catchers and sluggers of all time. That's no coincidence.
"My mom, dad and sister are all very athletic. But my dad is actually the one who got me started and basically taught me most of what I know about the game,'' Gibson said. "Baseball has always been my first love and I have played it for as far back as I can remember.
"A lot of us on this team have played baseball together for a long time. I think that also has helped us the last couple of years. We know each other and what we can do. We're a close team.''
For Gibson, baseball is a year-round sport. In the summer and fall, he plays select baseball for the St. Louis Gamers.
O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said Gibson's talent and passion help set him apart.
"Josh is a kid who has put the time into the game at a young age to where baseball has become a real passion of his,'' Portz said. "He's got extraordinary athletic ability and two of the aspects which always stick out in my mind about Josh are his quickness and his bat speed.
"His arm strength has gotten better as he's developed and gotten stronger and Josh is a young man who has a bright future ahead of him.''
Getting stronger is high on Gibson's priority list as he looks ahead to the remainder of his high school and then his college career.
"I've got to keep working on all aspects of the game. But I know I've got to get stronger and faster in order to play well at the college level and hopefully beyond that,'' Gibson said. "Right now, my main goal is to continue to help this baseball program win games.
"The goal? It's to win the state championship.''