Football Without Restrictions Agrees With Alohi Gilman
When the Fighting Irish were on the road last fall, Alohi Gilman was back on the Notre Dame campus, trudging through the snow and cold weather to the weight room -- twice on Saturday -- just to use up some nervous energy.
During home games, Gilman was on the Irish sideline but not in uniform, and thus, not involved in the action.
On the practice field, he proved to be a real pain, occasionally getting booted from the prep team because of, shall we say, a bit too much exuberance.
And yet when it was time to hand out awards for the 2017 season, Gilman – the transfer from Navy – was named the scout team player of the year.
All of that is in Gilman’s rearview mirror now. Good riddance.
If Gilman had a theme song last fall, it was “Unchain My Heart.”
“I definitely think it was one of the hardest things coming here and not playing,” said Gilman, the 5-foot-10½, 200-pound safety from Laie, Hawaii, who was second on the team in tackles in 2016 and helped lead the Midshipmen to a 28-27 victory over the Irish in Jacksonville.
“As a competitor, you want to play. It was just one of those things you have to deal with. I definitely think it made me a better person and a better player as well.”
But perhaps not always the nicest guy. Gilman admits to succumbing to the frustration of being an FBS starter one year to a player of no immediate consequence a year later.
“There were times during scout team where I purposely wanted to get kicked out because it was so tough not playing real football,” Gilman said. “I succeeded in getting kicked out a few times.”
Although it sounds like Gilman might not have been the best of teammates, that’s not how it was interpreted by the coaching staff. Brian Kelly saw Gilman’s determination to compete.
“He’s a great leader,” said Kelly in December. “He’s impactful player on our demo team. He challenges all of our guys on a day-to-day basis. His presence is known in our program. Everyone respects him and knows he’s going to impact this program. He’s already doing it in the roles that he plays right now.”
After choosing Notre Dame over USC and Arizona, Gilman got his hopes up that the NCAA would clear him for participation in the fall of ‘17. A new set of rules for cadets at the Naval Academy appeared to be the “escape clause” to gaining immediate eligibility at Notre Dame.
“Last spring, they changed the rule that if you wanted to play professionally, you would have to serve first,” Gilman said. “So they weren’t allowing you to get drafted or to apply to play professionally. That’s something I wanted to do so I just had to step away. I didn’t feel like I was passionate doing the service commitment.
“The whole transfer process was tough. I went to prep school the first year and then I went (to the Naval Academy) my freshman year. Being in the system for a while, deciding to leave was a big decision. It was scary in a way because you have a set future in the military and going somewhere else is a risk. I had to figure out what I wanted in my life.”
In the short term, that was Notre Dame.
“Obviously, it’s not home and there’s the cold weather,” Gilman smiled. “I just felt more comfortable here. The academics were something I looked towards as well. Notre Dame has better academics. It’s a great school.”
Gilman – a no-nonsense player on the field – took a direct and straightforward approach as well when questioning Kelly and his staff as to why he should come to Notre Dame.
“I asked them the hard questions like, ‘Why were you 4-8?’” Gilman said. “They were up front. I just felt comfortable here and felt like they were going in the right direction. I also thought I could compete right away.”
The NCAA had other ideas for Gilman, but the shackles are gone this spring. He’s competing with Jalen Elliott, Devin Studstill, Nick Coleman and Houston Griffith for a starting spot at safety. Although defensive coordinator Clark Lea said that this spring isn’t necessarily about naming a No. 1 set of safeties, Gilman has logged a vast majority of the first-team reps during media viewing sessions.
“He’s a special kid,” Lea offered. “He’s a guy that in one year has made an impact from a leadership standpoint. The guys listen to him. They follow him. They trust him. We identify him as a guy that can help us.
“He’s consistent. He’s dependable. He’s all the things that you would want. He’s got ‘it’ as a leader. We want to harness that and let that shine as he goes. Right now, he’s dealing with being a year removed. There’s a learning curve for him this spring, but I’ve been pleased with how he’s fought through it. From practice one to practice 13, he’s a guy that’s made strides in understanding what he’s supposed to be getting done.”
First-year Irish safeties coach Terry Joseph also likes what he sees in Gilman, but still believes there’s another level to be attained.
“Alohi is very athletic, has great instincts and can really play from sideline to sideline,” Joseph said. “You love how he sees it and he goes. Now you want him to go past the speed limit a little bit yet still be under control.”
No longer does Gilman have to channel his frustration. The days of watching road games with the non-travel group are done. Saturdays on the road will be spent toiling on the field with his new group of brothers. Home Saturdays will be in full blue-and-gold regalia.
“I have a better appreciation of the game,” said Gilman of the benefits of last season’s transition. “I can go out every day and have fun.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable in the defense. I’m not set where I’m at right now. Every day, I’m working on something little, something big to get more comfortable. But I’m feeling pretty good right now. I feel like I can just go out and play.”