NEW YORK — On Monday Night Football, New York Jets rookie Xavier Gipson electrified the Big Apple.
His game-winning punt return for a touchdown sent the home faithful into a frenzy at Met Life Stadium, as the Jets overcame the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and shocked the Buffalo Bills in overtime.
It was the type of moment Gipson dreamed of while growing up in Dallas.
Gipson was a four-year varsity player at Woodrow Wilson High School under former Wildcats head coach Bobby Estes.
"If the ball was near him, he was going to find it and he was going to score," Estes recalled Tuesday morning.
The 20-year Woodrow Wilson coach would often drive Gipson to school. As Estes explained, "He jumped in the truck and became part of the family."
Estes, now the interim coach for Thomas Jefferson High School, went to bed early Monday night but saw the highlight early Tuesday morning and traded texts with one of his beloved former players.
Despite an offer from nearby SMU, Gipson chose to play college football at Stephen F. Austin in the FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA).
He led FCS in receiving yards as a junior and was an FCS All-American as a senior.
However, he went undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft, due in part to his size -- 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds.
After the draft, the Jets signed Gipson as an undrafted free agent.
Shortly into training camp, the undersized underdog became a breakout star on the field -- and on HBO's hit series Hard Knocks.
"You see it on Hard Knocks," Estes described. "He's got that smile. He had that smile in eighth grade."
Chandra Hooper-Barnett remembers Gipson's eighth grade year at J.L. Long Middle School. After all, she was the principal.
"He was very jovial," said Hooper-Barnett, now the principal at Woodrow Wilson High School. "He was always playing in the hallway with the other kids."
Gipson's hometown roots remain strong. He comes back to visit often and works out at the high school in the offseason.
On the final day before reporting for Jets training camp, Gipson was at the high school training and visiting with his former teachers.
"Everyone loves Xavier," added Hooper-Barnett.
Gipson returns home this weekend when the Jets visit the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2.
Hooper-Barnett received her "GIPSON" Jets jersey in the mail this week and plans to wear it to school on Friday.
She also plans to attend Sunday's game, along with the rest of the Xavier Gipson fan club.
In spite of his smaller size and coming from a smaller school, Gipson found immediate success in his NFL regular season debut.
Perhaps, we should not be surprised.
This was Gipson's senior quote in his high school yearbook:
"People always told me that I was too small to play football, and I want to be able to show them that they were wrong and that you're never too big or too small to do what you put your mind to."