CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS, Pa. — The closer you get to Cambridge Springs High School football practice, the louder the cheers get.
“He’s going all the way!” one coach yells after a receiver leaps above a defender, snatching the pigskin above a cornerback’s head and sprinting to the end zone. The player is greeted by a chorus of kudos and applause. Catch after catch, No. 86 jumps, stretches his arms and ultimately blows by the Blue Devils defensive scout team.
“I have never coached anyone like him,” coach Justin Grubbs said.
Grubbs is talking about his starting wide receiver, punter and defensive back, Kris Silbaugh. Oh, and he was born without a left hand.
Silbaugh broke his northwestern Pennsylvania high school’s receiving yards record this season, surpassing 915 yards for the year in a game versus nearby rival Saegertown.
“You just need extra focus.” Silbaugh said. “You watch the ball closely all the way in.”
During the day before homecoming, Silbaugh snagged the ball repeatedly on the practice field, absorbing the its impact with just five fingers. Every catch the high school senior makes is a circus catch.
The success is even more unlikely for a kid who’s faced adversity on and off the field. Silbuagh was placed in foster care when he was 18 months old; he was adopted a short time later.
“I don’t know who my birth parents are.” Silbaugh said. “Maybe one day they can see that I’ve done something, that I’ve had success.”
He’s thriving in a situation that would break many kids. Silbaugh’s current legal guardians, Frank and Mary Tipping, took him in when he was having issues with his adopted family.
“Very quickly you forget that he doesn’t have a hand.” Mary Tipping said. “He never asks for help.”
He’s also become a favorite son of Cambridge Springs, a former resort town about 25 miles south of Lake Erie. Posters of the receiver mark storefronts and lighting posts. He’s the reigning homecoming king and on the honor roll. While he hopes to meet his birthparents one day, he’s found a family in football.
“I feel I belong out there just as much as anyone else,” Silbaugh said.