USA TODAY US Edition
One-handed receiver dominates with speed, spunk
When Kris Silbaugh was 5 he plopped down on one knee and taught himself how to tie his shoes. By age 9, he 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 (Pa.) High, he was carrying that distinction with him onto the field as a freshman on the varsity squad.
All modest feats that immediately upgrade to mind-boggling when you consider Silbaugh was born without a left hand.
“It was just some sort of birth defect,” he said. “Nothing was wrong. It has never stopped me. I just don’t let it — never have.”
Silbaugh became Cambridge Springs’ all-time leader in career receiving yards (915) Friday, when he snagged a 43-yard touchdown catch in a 63-0 win against Saegertown (Pa.).
“I knew I was close to it last year, but I had forgotten about it,” Silbaugh said of breaking the record of 912 yards, set in 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. Growing 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 on his shoulder, and by freshman year his 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 a novelty to a player defenses had 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 when Silbaugh was 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 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the same range as five-star prospects this summer at The Opening Finals, Nike’s football camp for the country’s top high school football players.
“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.”
Plus, there’s another school record in Silbaugh’s sights: most career receptions. He’s sitting at 38, and 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 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.”