WHITESBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - It was a difficult Thanksgiving holiday for many in Letcher County after a popular football coach died unexpectedly earlier this week.
Hometown boy, Owen Gibson, known as many things including a local legend who went on to coach middle school football alongside his friend and teammate Junior Matthews.
Matthews says, "You ask anybody in this area in Letcher and probably most counties up and down Eastern Kentucky about Owen, they are going to say, 'Oh yea I know him!' They'll say he did this for me or I've seen him do this one time."
At 41-years-old Gibson suffered a heart attack in his sleep and died on Sunday.
"The old phrase you can't judge a book by its cover...he was tough, he was loud, he was big and boisterous, but the truth about him was he was a big old teddy bear with a big heart who loved kids," says Matthews.
A gentle giant who wanted the best for each of his players, "They knew that he loved and supported them, he was like a protector," explains Matthews.
Providing transportation to games and practices, often taking them out to eat to make sure they received a good meal.
Matthews says, "Now you wonder how that's going to happen and how we're going to get those kids where they are supposed to be."
All because he knew the role football can play in a young boy's life and he didn't want anything to stand in the way of that opportunity.
"Owen grew up like most of these boys. He understood the difficulties, how hard it is, and how some of those things could keep a kid from being a part of a football team and part of a group...he didn't want a kid to miss that," explains Matthews.
Those who knew Coach Gibson say he taught his players much more than football skills but life lessons they will now carry on forever as part of his legacy.
Matthews says, "He taught them about commitment. If you were there you were going to give your best effort. Loyalty...I've said it all week, if Owen Gibson was your friend, you didn't need any other friends."
Lessons Matthews says will not be forgotten, "Seeing our kids...they embody all those things and his spirit is going to live on through them."
Living on through the family he leaves behind...his wife and two sons, ages 13 and 10, both members of the football team. "We've got those two guys to help us remember the lessons Owen taught us," says Matthews.
Gibson's spirit will also continue on through the Letcher Central Cougars.
The football program plans to hold a Santa Run 5k on December 7th to help remember Coach Gibson. Money raised will help kids participate in football at no cost. For information on the fundraiser visit the link below.