When Kris Silbaugh was 5 years old he plopped down on one knee and taught himself how to tie his own shoes. By the time he turned 9, Silbaugh was blowing past his neighborhood pals and catching deep balls in pickup football games so often that he became the most feared receiver on the block. At 14, in his first year of organized football at Cambridge Springs (Cambridge Springs, Pa.), he was carrying that distinction with him onto the gridiron as a freshman on the varsity squad.
All modest feats that immediately upgrade to mind-boggling when you consider that Silbaugh was born without his left hand.
“It was just some sort of birth defect,” Silbaugh said. “Nothing was wrong. It has never stopped me. I just don’t let it; never have.”
Be clear: Silbaugh isn’t “good for a guy with one hand” he’s downright dominant.
Last Friday, Silbaugh became Cambridge Springs’ all-time receiving yards (915) leader when he snagged a 43-yard touchdown catch during a 63-0 win over Saegertown (Saegertown, Pa.).
“I knew I was close to it last year, but I had forgotten about it,” Silbaugh said of breaking the previous record of 912 yards from 1998. “I was shocked; one of my coaches told me at halftime and I was just like, ‘Oh wow!’ It definitely makes me feel good that I was able to do that, but I always believe in myself.”
Even when it’s uncomfortable.
Coming up, Silbaugh always wanted to play football, but, admittedly, let his fear “of what people would say” halt those plans. He internally struggled with the “why me” questions but kept his feelings bottled up.
“I never wanted anyone to pity me,” Silbaugh said. “I hate that feeling.”
Instead, the pent-up feelings created a football-sized chip smack-dab on his shoulder and by freshman year the desire to suit up outweighed the discomfort.
“I knew I wanted to be a receiver, but I didn’t know how everyone would react when I tried out,” Silbaugh said. “Finally, I just kind of went for it. I knew I would have to be better than good. I still remember Coach (Clint) Rauscher, who was the head coach at the time, and he was a little shocked when I said I was a receiver.”
It didn’t take long for Silbaugh to transition from being the “one-handed player you’ve just gotta see” to being the player you’d better focus on stopping.
“It went from the guys being excited to see if he could actually do something to them counting on him to make plays,” said Justin Grubbs, who was an assistant since Silbaugh started playing as a freshman and is now in his first year as head coach at Cambridge Springs. “It’s just amazing to see what he’s able to do. He makes catches that you wouldn’t believe. He’s a guy that defenses have to have a game plan for and he’s just so fast.”
Silbaugh clocks a 4.4-second 40-yard dash; the same range that five-star prospects were in this summer at The Opening Championships, Nike’s football camp for the top high school football players in the country.
“I’m pretty confident because of my speed and I just feel like every ball is a catchable ball for me,” said Silbaugh, who also plays volleyball and basketball. “I’ve been getting a few letters from colleges, but I’m just focusing on the season. I just want to help the team in any way that I can.”
Plus, Silbaugh’s got yet another record in his sights: All-time receptions leader.
Currently, he’s sitting at 38 catches for his career; two this season. The record is 57.
“I definitely want all of the records I can get,” Silbaugh said. “It’s crazy that, at first, no one knew me and now I get the best guy in the secondary all the time. I still feel like I have to prove people wrong because there’s always someone in the stands that hasn’t seen me play. I know that people will always be shocked at what I’m able to do because I only have one hand, but my goal is to be known as a dominant player, period.”
Here’s how Kris Silbaugh gets it done.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY