Irish A-to-Z: Alohi Gilman
The name Alohi Gilman meant little in Notre Dame’s process of signing a 2016 recruiting class. When he ultimately landed at the Naval Academy out of Laie, Hawaii, he didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of the Irish later that fall as Notre Dame traveled to Jacksonville to take on the Midshipmen. Twelve tackles and a 28-27 Navy victory later, Gilman’s name was quite familiar as the Mids stymied Notre Dame’s comeback attempt at EverBank Field.
Gilman completed his rookie season in Annapolis with 76 tackles (second on the team), five tackles for loss, five passes broken up and a fumble forced that he returned for a touchdown.
Just a few months later, in an improbable turn of events, Gilman enrolled at Notre Dame after a shift in academy policy no longer allowed student-athletes to enter their names in the NFL draft upon graduation. Gilman, who went to the Naval Academy with NFL aspirations, considered a couple schools out west – Utah and Nevada among them – before choosing Notre Dame.
His appeal for immediate eligibility with the Irish was denied. So he made a nuisance of himself to Notre Dame’s starting offense by winning the prep team player of the year in ’17.
This spring, he emerged as a frontrunner to answer the starting bell when the Irish open the 2018 season on Sept. 1 against Michigan.
Class/Eligibility: Junior (3)
Post-Spring Status: Ascending
Recruiting Ranking: Gilman was a lightly-regarded athlete out of the Hawaiian Islands whose original offers came from South Dakota and Weber State. Listed as a two-star prospect, Gilman chose the Naval Academy, where he quickly ascended up the depth chart to start 12 of 14 games.
Path To Playing Time In ‘18
Gilman began carving his path last fall as a member of Notre Dame’s defensive prep team. Had he been eligible, he likely would have started or at least played a significant role at safety where the Irish failed to produce a playmaker, although defensive coordinator Mike Elko managed to stabilize the position.
It wasn’t until the Blue-Gold Game before the media saw real visual evidence of Gilman’s play-making ability. He recorded six tackles, including a fumble forced and a fumble recovery. Gilman flashed great reactions and instincts diagnosing running plays and filling the gaps. If anything, Gilman further strengthened his position as a frontrunner for a starting position this fall.
Gilman enters the 2018 season with three years of eligibility, which makes him a likely three-year starter through the 2020 season. He isn’t necessarily the most physically-gifted safety on the roster. There are others who run better 40 times and offer more appealing measurables. But instincts for the game can compensate for physical shortcomings.
Gilman’s freshman season at Navy, his disruptive play as a member of Notre Dame’s 2017 prep team, and the star quality he flashed in the Blue-Gold Game seemed to indicate a long-term solution for the Irish on the back end of the defense.
Transfers into Notre Dame are extremely rare. Fullback Larry Moriarty came to Notre Dame out of Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College in 1990. He played three seasons with the Irish, topping out at 520 yards on 88 carries (5.9-yard average) with seven touchdowns in his final season in 1982. That led to a fifth-round draft pick by the Houston Oilers and a total of six years in the NFL.
A more appropriate comparison, although they’ll ultimately end up at different positions, would be former Yale transfer Pat Eilers, who played running back/slotback for the Irish after arriving as a safety prospect.
Eilers caught 11 passes for 119 yards with the Irish and carried it just 10 times for 38 yards and one touchdown. But that one touchdown was a two-yarder that proved to be the game-winning score in No. 4 Notre Dame’s 31-30 victory over No. 1 Miami in Oct. 15, 1988. Eilers would go on to play six seasons in the NFL as a safety a la Gilman.
Gilman likely won’t score a touchdown or make a play as significant as Eilers’ against Miami 30 seasons ago. But he has a goldenopportunity to play a significant role for the Irish the next three seasons.
“Alohi is a guy who is very athletic, has great instincts and can really play from sideline to sideline. 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.”-- Safeties coach Terry Joseph