New Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman has ‘it’ and he’ll impact the Irish defense in 2018 greatly
Without meaning to, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly played with the emotions of the Irish Nation as it pertained to its anticipation of Alohi Gilman being inserted into the Notre Dame defense for the 2018 season. “He has a great combination of cover skills at the safety position,” Kelly said last December when asked about Gilman, “and the ability to come down and be a sure tackler.” Gilman had to sit out the 2017 season following his transfer from Navy and Kelly’s assessment of his skills was all good, but what made everyone take notice was what Kelly said when he was asked what type of impact Gilman would have made if he were eligible in 2017. “He would have started,” Kelly said definitively. After watching that position group not make a single interception last season, that statement was euphoric for the Notre Dame fans. So when Kelly tempered his enthusiasm regarding Gilman’s pedestrian play midway through spring football, it wasn’t so great to hear. “Interesting enough,” Kelly said at the time, “he had a slow start to the spring.” Kelly did go on to explain that Gilman spent the entire 2017 on the scout team and never had an opportunity to actually learn the Notre Dame defense. So essentially, this spring was his first taste of doing such. “He was taught everybody else’s defense,” Kelly said of Gilman’s scout team work. “That kind of put him back.” However, by the time that the annual Blue-Gold Game rolled around, the potential that Gilman possessed began to show and Kelly alluded to it. “If you look at every time he’s near the football,” Kelly said following the spring game, “there’s high contact with him. That’s what we were looking at that position, high contact and plays the ball well in the air, and is a very smart football player. “He’s what we thought he would be. He started a little slow in the spring. I think he’s really picked it up to the point where he’s making things happen back at that safety position.” One wouldn’t be surprised that a young man that enrolled in the United States Naval Academy for a year is a great person to have within the Notre Dame program off the field, as well, and Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea touched on that topic this off-season. “First of all,” Lea said, “he is a special kid. He is a guy that in one year has made an impact from a leadership standpoint. The guys follow him and listen to him and trust him. That is apparent because he is consistent and dependable. “He’s all of the things that you would want.” At Navy, Gilman started 12 of 14 games and finished second on the Midshipmen in tackles with 76 during his freshman season. He is projected to start at free safety this fall alongside junior strong safety Jalen Elliott. “He’s got ‘it,'” Lea continued. “We want to harness that and let that shine.” When Irish safeties coach Terry Joseph was hired in January, he told his group that every player had a “clean slate” and he would give everyone a thorough and honest evaluation. In the case of Gilman, he saw the traits of a good football player just as Kelly and Lea had. “Alohi is a guy who is very athletic,” Joseph said. “He has great instincts and is a guy who can really play from sideline to sideline. You love how he sees it and he goes and now you want him to go past the speed limit a little bit, yet still be under control. “He was so excited to get back into the mix after spending a year on scout team… now it’s more about processing what is going on, how to match routes, how to get yourself in the right position, and how to read what the offense is trying to do.” Gilman should be backed-up by freshman Houston Griffith, as well as senior Nick Coleman. He has three seasons of eligibility remaining.