Everything’s golden for Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman
ASSOCIATED PRESS Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman credits growing up in Laie with giving him the confidence to play on the national stage.
The needle has finally moved. For so long, the process was a fight for football players growing up in the islands. A fight to get your name out there, a battle to gain national exposure, a grind to show you deserve a college opportunity. For the select few who make it to Division I football, the battle had just begun. Kids from Hawaii got looked at a little differently when they got to college. Respect wasn’t given, it was earned.
A lot of that still holds true today, but the stereotype of Hawaii football is changing. It took high-profile players at the glamour position — quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa, McKenzie Milton and now Dillon Gabriel — to change the national stereotype. Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman has seen it happen first-hand over the past four years. He started his college career at Navy, playing one season before transferring to Notre Dame, where he sat out a full year.
Now a starting safety with the Fighting Irish, Gilman points to the list of more than 100 Division I players across the country from Hawaii as proof of that change.
"People are starting to recognize,” Gilman said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think before (the mind-set) for us kids was to put (Hawaii) on the map. Nowadays people have a little more respect and you’re starting to see more people say, ‘Yeah, you from Hawaii, you can ball,’ because they’ve seen it.”
Whether when he first arrived at Navy or when he transferred to Notre Dame, Gilman has never worried about trying to fit in. The task in front of him has never been too big. Growing up in Laie shapes you to be confident in any situation you find yourself in, he said. “Because of the way we are raised, we have a different mind-set competitive-wise,” Gilman said. “Even playing against all these so-called four- and five-star guys … I don’t care who you are. “It works out for us and grooms us to be a different breed and I’d put all of how I was raised as to why I’m where I’m at right now.” Gilman has developed a reputation for his ability to step up in big games. As a freshman at Navy, he had a season-high 12 tackles against Notre Dame and was obviously impressive enough to get noticed by the Irish coaching staff. Last year in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Clemson, Gilman set a Notre Dame bowl record with 19 tackles. No. 9 Notre Dame, which still factors into the College Football Playoff race this season despite a loss to Georgia, continues its rivalry with USC this weekend at Notre Dame Stadium. Growing up, USC and Oregon were the schools everybody from Hawaii wanted to go to, Gilman said. That too has changed in recent years. Notre Dame is one of 21 schools with multiple players who graduated from high school in Hawaii. “I did watch a lot of (USC) games, so it’s kind of crazy to think I’m playing against them,” Gilman said. “It’s a rivalry that I enjoy. That was a school people loved back home growing up. Now (players from Hawaii are) everywhere and I think we’ve developed our own fraternity. Guys from everywhere support each other because we all know where we come from.” Gilman, listed as a senior, has another year of eligibility but will weigh a possible opportunity to enter the NFL Draft after he graduates in December. If he does come back, there will be two Gilmans playing D-I football at Power 5 schools next season. Younger brother Alaka’i, a senior at Punahou, recently committed to Washington State. The Irish have three players from Hawaii, including Alaka’i’s teammate from a year ago, linebacker Marist Liufau, whom Alohi and defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa hosted on his recruiting trip and helped convince to come to Notre Dame. “Since he was in the eighth grade, I would come home on breaks and go work out with my dad, and Marist would always come out to work,” Alohi said. “He’s one of our best special teams players right now. I think he’s going to redshirt, but he still played those four games and he’s coming along. He’s going to be a good one.”