February 4, 2009

Garrett Gilbert has big plans

There is not much wasted motion when it comes to five-star quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who signed with Texas on Wednesday.

He's to the point, whether answering questions from the media or turning a broken pass play into a big gain with his legs.

Starting from the time he was 5 years old, Gilbert showed he was no-nonsense. That's when he used to negotiate with neighborhood kids - agreeing to play Power Rangers with them for an hour as long as they would agree to play football for an hour.

That's what happens when you're the son of an NFL quarterback. In fact, Gale Gilbert is the only player in NFL history to play in five straight Super Bowls (four with Buffalo under Marv Levy and one with the San Diego Chargers under Bobby Ross). While on the subject of trivia, Gale Gilbert was also the sophomore starting quarterback for Cal the day of The Play between Cal and Stanford on Nov. 20, 1982.

So football was in Garrett Gilbert's blood. Garrett was born in Buffalo, moved to San Diego when he was 2 and then to Austin when he was 4. In second grade, he met a kid in school named Cade McCrary, the son of former Texas defensive ends coach Hardee McCrary. The University of Texas started seeping into Garrett's DNA at Cade's 7-year-old birthday party, when some Longhorn players stopped by.

"I've been a Texas fan for a long time," Garrett said Wednesday.

WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET

There's no hidden agenda to the kid. Despite being one of the top players in the country, he was one of the first to commit to Mack Brown last year. His parents wanted him to take other visits. They met at Cal and wanted Garrett to at least look at their alma mater. After five minutes of walking around the Cal campus, Garrett said, "Can we go now?"

His no-nonsense approach applies off the field as well, according to teammates.

"Garrett doesn't involve himself in any of the negative fun stuff, whatsoever," said Lake Travis offensive lineman Paden Kelley, who also signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play at Texas. "Off the field, he's acting like he's got cameras on him 24-7, which he does here in Austin. He's not the kind to be any kind of risk factor to get into mischief off the field."

There's no drama with Gilbert, unless you count him all but demanding Lake Travis coach Chad Morris get him the ball on third-and-4 late in the game against Alice this season when Alice had cut the lead to 35-32.

Morris obliged by calling a quarterback draw, and Gilbert took it 14 yards for a first down. Gilbert capped the drive by pulling on a zone read and taking it in for a touchdown. It was one of the few times Lake Travis was challenged late in a game in 2008. But Gilbert killed Alice's rally as he killed so many others during a 30-game winning streak that saw Lake Travis win two straight Class 4A state titles.

"After the game, I said to Garrett, 'You were mad at me,'" Morris said. "And he said, 'No Coach, never would be. Just wanted to win.'"

A BORN LEADER

Morris, who coached Jevan Snead at Stephenville, is one of many who think Gilbert can be a great college quarterback. Not a good one. Great.

"In the week of the state championship game, our last practice was on Thursday," Morris said. "It was kind of foggy, and the kids were emotional because it was the last practice of the season, and they'd had so much fun together.

"He said, 'Coach, I want to say something.' We had the plaque up for our 2007 state championship, and he said, 'Before the first game next year, we'll unveil the plaque for the 2008 state championship.' At that point we knew we were going to win it. It was a done deal."

Teammates say there are many sides to Gilbert. With them he is fun-loving and a jokester. He had outrageous nicknames for teammates, including Kelley, whom he called, "Princess Pe Pe." But Gilbert prepared for every game by listening to his iPod and when he walked around the locker room to give everyone a fist bump, "That's when we knew he was ready to go," Kelley said. "That's when he turned into all business."

His father laughs when asked if there are any similarities to their games.

"Night and day," Gale Gilbert said. "I was nothing but a drop-back guy. Couldn't run if my life depended on it."

So in addition to finishing his Lake Travis career as Texas' high school career leader in passing yards (12,540) and ranking second in passing TDs (138), where did Garrett get the ability to run for 1,424 yards and 32 TDs in his career.

"No idea," Gale Gilbert said.

HUMILITY WAS REQUIRED

One thing Garrett absolutely got from his parents was humility. Kim Gilbert always told her son football was just a game. Being good at it didn't give him the right to draw attention to himself.

"I think it was something we had the privilege of seeing Gale being in the NFL and all the things that go wrong in that arena," Kim Gilbert said. "And we learned that players who talk about themselves are offensive. No one wants to hear you talk about yourself. It's about the team. We made him understand that. We educated him on being humble and crediting others because it's the right thing to do."

When I asked Gale why he thought Garrett wouldn't let any of his successes go to his head, he laughed and said, "Because he has to sit down at our dinner table."

After watching her husband's college and eight-year NFL career, Kim Gilbert said she knew Garrett had what it took on the second play of his first start as a sophomore at Lake Travis against Texas City in the Alamodome.

He threw his first interception - and didn't let it bother him.

"He was only 15, and it was a big stage," she said. "But he shrugged it off. And he's been able to do that since."

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

Garrett faced genuine adversity a year ago, when he was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that required surgery. The rehab was six months. Doctors told him everything would be fine. But it was his throwing shoulder. Garrett couldn't stand watching spring ball and not taking part. Every time he thought about pushing his rehab a little more aggressively, his father told him it could ruin his career. He was patient - as hard as it was.

"Garrett shows no effects from his shoulder injury," Mack Brown said Wednesday. "We think he has a chance to be special."

There is no plan to red shirt Garrett at the moment. Texas coaches want him to come in this fall and compete with John Chiles and Sherrod Harris for the right to backup Colt McCoy. If Gilbert wins that battle, he'll play as McCoy's backup in 2009.

Garrett Gilbert trusts Mack Brown and Greg Davis to make the right decision. If he redshirts, fine. If he plays, fine.

But one thing is clear. When Gilbert finally gets his turn to play, he has big plans.

"We've got a great recruiting class," Gilbert said. "So I'm excited about playing on a great team and hopefully getting a few national championships."

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