written by special contributor, Lance Fleming

Linebacker Jack Gibbens #50 of the Tennessee Titans during the preseason game between the Tennessee Titans and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on August 12, 2023 in Chicago, IL. Photo By Emily Starkey/Tennessee Titans

As a double major in accounting and financial management, Jack Gibbens’ (‘20) learned a lot about discipline and tenacity during his time in the College of Business as a student-athlete. That steadfast determination was something he’d need on the road to the National Football League, which wasn’t as smooth as that of others he plays with as a member of the Tennessee Titans. But in the NFL – as Gibbens has heard over and over – it’s not about how you got to the league, it’s about what you do when you get there.

And despite being cut at the end of the Titans’ training camp in 2022, the former ACU Wildcat standout has finally earned his spot in the league as a starting linebacker for the Titans. He’s started all but one game this season for the Titans after playing in the team’s final five games in 2022.

Gibbens was a standout at ACU from 2017-20 and then spent his graduate season (2021) as a starting linebacker at the University of Minnesota, where he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference selection and earned his master’s degree in accounting. He wasn’t drafted in 2022 but signed as a free agent with the Titans after the draft, and for most of training camp, it looked like he might make the final roster.

He quickly became a favorite of head coach Mike Vrabel, who dubbed him “Dr. Gibby” because of his intelligence. The former ACU Academic All-American had made an impression on the veteran head coach.

“He’s smart, answered all the questions, and then said, ‘Coach, I wasn’t in pre-med,’ “Vrabel said. “I told him I knew and that it was a joke.”

Gibbens has spent his career – both in college and now as a professional – using his athleticism and intelligence to reach the pinnacle in football: a starting spot in the NFL. A native of Bulverde, Texas, Gibbens quickly earned a starting spot for the Wildcats and played in 39 games over four years, earning all-conference honors and academic All-America accolades.

He went through the Titans’ training camp in 2022 but was one of the final cuts made before the regular season started. He was re-signed to the team’s practice squad on Sept. 12, 2022, and was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 10, 2022, making his NFL debut in their Dec. 11 game against Jacksonville. Just one year later, Gibbens is a mainstay in the middle of the Titans’ defense, having earned a starting spot over other veterans.

“Coach Vrabel continually preaches that it doesn’t matter how we got here; it’s what you do when you get an opportunity,” Gibbens said. “It’s been a journey to get to this place in my life. I was cut last year and then spent some time on the practice squad before I finally got an opportunity to play. Now, I’m playing a completely different role as a starter. I’m trying to keep the same process, which is to put my head down, keep working, and get better every day.”

Photo by Jeremy Enlow/Abilene Christian University

We recently had the chance to catch up with Gibbens, who spoke about his time at ACU (where he carried a 4.0 grade point average in accounting and financial management) as well as what he’s learned about managing his money in the NFL.

Q: You spent a lot of time in the Mabee Business Building while at ACU. Could you tell me about your experience in COBA and your gratitude for what you learned under those professors?

Gibbens: “When I think about my time in COBA, I am most appreciative of the amazing people I was surrounded by each day. The small class sizes allowed me to get to know my classmates and professors on a more personal basis. I am extremely grateful to my professors not only for teaching me about business but for their interest and investment in me as a person.

Q: What are some of your biggest takeaways from your time in COBA?

Gibbens: “Probably learning how to combine business with my personal beliefs, interests, and values. Being in a Christ-centered environment was a huge blessing that allowed me to be myself and grow in knowledge and as a person.

Q: When you think back on your time in COBA, who are the professors that stand out, and what life lessons did you take away from them?

Gibbens: “I had many professors who impacted my life, but two in particular stick out. Clint Buck had a huge impact in making it feel like home. He taught my first class at ACU and made me feel at home on campus by developing a personal relationship with me and praying for/ with me as I adjusted to college. And Andy Little. I appreciate the way he challenged my thinking and pushed me to form and defend opinions.

Q: How difficult was it to balance getting ready to play a game on Saturday and studying to maintain a 4.0 GPA?

Gibbens: “Balancing those two was a challenge when trying to succeed at the highest level. Being a student-athlete taught me great lessons about time management and work ethic. I quickly learned the importance of being in the moment and fully investing myself in the task at hand.

Q: When you played at the University of Minnesota, how much more difficult was the dual life of student and athlete?

Gibbens: “The adjustment from high school to college was much more difficult than my transition to Minnesota. Adjusting to life as a collegiate student-athlete is so different athletically, academically, and in everyday life from when you were in high school. Moving to Minnesota was much easier because I had already learned how to be successful in that lifestyle.

Q: Now that you’ve moved into the NFL, with your background and major, how much are you watching your finances and where your money is going?

Gibbens: “Having a background in accounting and finance has caused me to have a huge interest in my finances. What I studied in college gave me a great foundation to make good financial decisions and understand the importance of budgeting, investing, and preparing for life after football.

Q: A lot of guys in your position turn it over to a financial advisor and then don’t know anything about it. Did you determine early on you weren’t going to do that?

Gibbens: “The NFL is unlike any other profession because it creates specific challenges and opportunities from a financial perspective. To help me navigate this unique financial landscape I have hired a financial advisor who specifically works with athletes and understands my specific needs.

Q: Going back to your ACU days: what did ACU and the experiences in COBA, football, and student life in general mean to you?

Gibbens: “Those times at ACU are some of the best years of my life. I made memories and friendships that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and, for that, I am extremely grateful for ACU.