If you weren’t among the thousands of Saline fans who watched #20 tear up the field at Hornet Stadium this year, you missed something special.
Connor Hibbard, first-team all-state running back for the Saline football team, rewrote the team record book in his two years on the Hornets. Last Wednesday, Hibbard opened a new chapter in his life when signed a letter of intent to continue his football career and studies at Oberlin College, a private liberal arts college located southwest of Cleveland.
Hibbard, the son of Keith and Debbie Hibbard, chose the crimson and gold of Oberlin College, which plays Division 3 football in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
“I chose Oberlin because it’s a good academic school and I really liked the coach when I went on a visit there. All the kids on the team seemed great,” Hibbard said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Hibbard admitted the recruiting process wasn’t easy, at first. The speedy and elusive back put up record-breaking numbers for Saline, one of the top teams in the state. Yet, recruiters weren’t breaking down his door.
“It was frustrating at first but when I realized that I wanted to go to more of an academic school then it made it a lot easier for me,” Hibbard said.
He will study kinesiology and biology.
Oberlin’s coaches like a lot about Hibbard, on and off the field.
“The coaches liked my hard work and what I do on the field. I tried to emphasize that I am a leader in everything to do,” Hibbard said.
At Saline, Hibbard had a remarkable two seasons at running back. After scoring 14 touchdowns as a junior he scored 32 touchdowns as a senior, shattering Greg DeDrand’s record of 24 set in 1994. His 46 career touchdowns shattered the record of 36 set by Vince Helmuth (Class of ’06) and DeGrand (Class of ’94).
Somehow, Hibbard seemed to get more elusive, quicker and tougher each time out. He capped his career with a jaw-dropping five-touchdown performance against Cass Tech, who went on to win the state championship.
Head coach Joe Palka often said that “Hibbard makes us right.” Even when the defense seemed to have Saline beat, Hibbard found a way to get yards.
“We are going to miss his dominance offensively. He made us look good in the run game often,” Palka said.
Al Leslie, who coached Hibbard in track and football, agreed.
“I have seen a lot of very good athletes in my day, but the combination of speed, vision, and power that Connor brings to the table are hard to match at any level,” Leslie said.
At 5’8, 185 pounds, Hibbard uses the low center of gravity and his strength to bounce off tacklers and bowl over bigger guys. Leslie said Hibbard outworks most people in the weight room, on the track, on the football field, and just about anywhere.
“Connor lives his life in this way. He is a hard worker in school, in his extracurricular activities and athletics. He has better than a 3.5 GPA and Connor is also involved in many volunteer activities, in and out of school,” Leslie said.
To say Oberlin got a great student-athlete would be an understatement, Palka said.
“He is an absolute steal for Oberlin. He is capable of being a four-year starter there,” Palka said.
For all the records, dramatic victories and highlight-reel runs, what Hibbard will remember most about Saline football is his extended family.
“Before the game, just being with the guys and getting ready with them. And after the game, all the excitement,” Hibbard said. “Unforgettable.”
Hibbard said that while he’s got a lot of work and training to do, he believes he’s mentally ready for the next level.
He’s thrilled he’s got the chance to keep playing football.
“It feels great that it’s not over. I get to make another team and make another family,” Hibbard said.