Photo by Reggie Hildred for The Sports Capitol
Odds-beating bibbs not phased by redskins' numbers game
BY BEN STANDIG | AUG. 15, 2018
RICHMOND — Whatever your analysis of the Redskins’ running back battle following Derrius Guice’s season-ending knee injury, do not use any imagery suggesting tight quarters. At least not when Kapri Bibbs is within earshot. The relentlessly positive human — and one of five running backs vying potentially for four roster spots — won’t scoff at the suggestion things in his room are cramped. He merely knows from genuinely overcrowded space.
The solidly built 5-foot-11, 203-pound back grew up in a situation that was anything but sturdy, residing in a three-bedroom home located in Harvey, Illinois, a crime-ridden suburb south of Chicago that a 2014 Chicago Tribune article framed as “lawless.” Inside the home lived 23 kids.
Skip the cute impulse to say the Bibbs clan included enough bodies for their own 11-on-11 football game. There was little funny about the day-to-day struggles for Bibbs, his four siblings, their mother, oodles of first cousins and other adults living in that loving, yet claustrophobic environment.
“For us sometimes you wake up in the morning and breakfast wasn’t there. You just never knew when your meal was going to come,” the 25-year-old told The Sports Capitol.
Navigating the so-called most important meal of the day kicked off the daily concerns in Harvey, where abandoned buildings and violence lurked around corners. “Crime rate very high. A lot of drugs and gangs. A lot of violence,” Bibbs explained.
An explanation of the Redskins backfield battle seems incredibly irrelevant compared to those daily struggles. This story isn’t just about childhood concerns, but a man fulfilling a dream few imagined was conceivable.
Bibbs is one of five veteran running backs on Washington’s 90-man roster entering Thursday’s preseason game. While there’s an argument for keeping them all, conventional thinking says four remain. Even with video game-level quickness that helps the Colorado State product bounce outside containment with ease, Bibbs probably ranks fifth among the five.
He’s now five years into the league. Only once in the previous four did he play more than three games. Running backs are disposable in the modern era, even those who along with Barry Sanders is one of five players in college football history to rush for at least 30 touchdowns in a single season. His professional football life becomes dicey with a release.
Just don’t suggest the scenario makes Bibbs anxious. He knows from desperate.
Adults took one of the bedrooms. Kids inhabited the other spaces with arms and legs sprawled from wall to wall. An older sister or one of the adults would start the day attempting to disperse bowls of Malt-O-Meal or oatmeal to the masses. Sliced hot dogs became a staple to the point Bibbs no longer can stomach the idea of eating the ballpark favorite. For dinner “it was always chicken and rice, chicken and rice, chicken and rice,” he said. Having these menu options assumed the folks from the Salvation Army stopped by with supplies. If not, Bibbs and his family members might eat only once a day.
“We’d find ways to get food throughout the day. We’d go to a friend’s house. Stumble upon dinner with their family or eat lunch with them. That would be a great day,” Bibbs said. “You come back, and you’re like, ‘OK, I ate. I got a meal in. …’ You just never knew, you never knew what type of day it would be.”
These harsh realities didn’t lead to a sullen adult. Just like his slithery moves on the practice fields throughout training camp, Bibbs’ optimism isn’t easily contained. That brightness shines onto teammates who double as his employment and playing time competitors.
He doesn’t just praise Chris Thompson, but calls him, “probably the best third-down back the league has ever seen.” Samaje Perine, a second-year back coming off an uneven rookie season is deemed a “juggernaut.” Bibbs lauds Rob Kelley’s ability to “squeeze through the tightest holes” and notes Byron Marshall’s “great set of hands.”
“We have a whole room full of starters that can be starters in the NFL and I love it,” Bibbs said.
Think injuries to the offensive line throughout training camp stifle progress for hole-seeking running backs? Not in Bibbs’ glass-always-full world, where every player on the roster has Pro Bowl potential. No matter the topic, no matter the concerns, the kid who grew up without an inch to spare fills his every utterance with miles worth of smiles.
“Yeah, I’m positive, I’m always smiling. That is my nature,” he told The Sports Capitol. “I had a whole life full of downs. I don’t have time for that anymore. I’ve come a long way.”
“It showed me a different side of life,” Bibbs said of childhood. “It showed me money wasn’t everything. It showed me that even if you didn’t have everything, you had everything. You know what I mean? I had family, and that literally surpassed every little bitty piece of money that I ever had. My family always made me the most happiest. … Being with them showed me what life is really all about. A piece of green paper couldn’t make you any happier than (being with) your family. That’s what I do everything for.”
The expressive Bibbs released a rap album in 2017 titled, “They Want Me Bad.” Known in that world as “Just Kapri,” Bibbs said the single, “They Don’t Understand Me” is the track that most relates to his world. Among the lyrics that seemingly connect to his youth and current job scenario, “I don’t need a handout. I just want to stand out.” Another project is due out in the coming weeks. “[It] will be a testimony to the things I’ve been through in my life. That’s going to be exciting for me to get that out there.”
For now, the focus is sticking on the Redskins roster. It might not come down to ability, but a numbers game. Roster battles elsewhere may eliminate a potential spot two. Keeping five running backs isn’t the norm under Jay Gruden. Bibbs caught the head coach’s eye last year when injuries led Washington to seek help for the final three games. “[Kapri] had some flashes last year out of the backfield,” said Gruden, who also cited Bibbs’ every-down potential during training camp.
It’s overcoming life’s everyday obstacles that fuels Bibbs’ smile.
“I was raised in a three-bedroom house with 23 kids. I was one of the first kids out of my family to go to college. The first one to even graduate high school. I already surpassed all odds in my eyes. Right now, I can’t do anything but be happy and smile. I’m in a place most people never imagined to see me at. Sometimes in my life, I’ve told myself I would get there. It got a little cloudy, but I ended up getting there. That’s what I’m happy with. That’s what I’m going to keep striving for.”
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.