DKW 86 6,371 Posted August 24, 2006 Share Posted August 24, 2006 http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/huntsvill....xml&coll=1 Give up? Gilbert wouldn'tThursday, August 24, 2006 By PHILLIP MARSHALL Times Sports Staff email@example.com Former Auburn walk-on perseveres, earns starting job AUBURN - A daily itinerary is posted on the door of Auburn's football complex and on the wall of the elevator. It tells players what time they must arrive, what time they practice, what time they are expected to be home for the night. One line tells the story of the life of a walk-on, a football player with no scholarship: 5 p.m.: Dinner (Sewell). Scholarship only. Walk-ons are required to do all the things their teammates are required to do - the early-morning workouts, the meetings, the grueling practices. But when it comes to paying for school, paying rent, even eating dinner, they are on their own. NCAA rules mandate it. Defensive back Zach Gilbert knows what it's like to go to the nearest fast-food restaurant while teammates below him on the depth chart go to the Sewell Hall dining room for a relative feast. He knows what it's like to borrow money just to stay in school. "It's hard being a walk-on," said Gilbert, who is projected to be Auburn's No. 1 nickel back. "You have to go through a lot. You have to humble yourself." At least four players who will play important roles when Auburn opens its season against Washington State on Sept. 2 know of what Gilbert speaks. Starting center Joe Cope is a former walk-on who received a scholarship last summer. Starting wide receiver Rod Smith and fullback Andrew Turman are walk-ons still. Gilbert, a fourth-year junior from Bradshaw High School in Florence :bawlin:, spent three seasons as a walk-on. As a redshirt freshman, he was part of the playing rotation on Auburn's unbeaten 2004 team. He played in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams. Finally, after practice on Aug. 8, he heard the words for which he'd waited for so long. First-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was going over mistakes players had made, including one by Gilbert. That's when he called Gilbert to the front. "He thought he was in trouble," Muschamp said, laughing. He wasn't. As Gilbert's teammates cheered, Muschamp gave him the good news. He had been awarded a scholarship. It was a joyful day for Gilbert and for his family. The hard work, the patience, all of it, had been worth it. It lifted a financial burden from his parents, Tia and Larry Gilbert. Gilbert has a brother at Auburn and a sister at the University of North Alabama. "I look at my position and I wouldn't want anything to be different," said Gilbert, who will graduate next spring with a major in public administration and a minor in business. "Working and earning this scholarship is going to make me a better man. It has opened up so many doors. The Auburn family is just different. There is love everywhere. "It's just unbelievable how things have worked out." Gilbert's scholarship, Muschamp says, wasn't a gift. It was earned. "I love coaching the kid," Muschamp said. "He's a great kid. After watching him at practice, I thought he was a scholarship kid. When I found out he wasn't, I talked to Coach Tub and we had a scholarship available." In 2004, under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Gilbert thought his career was on the fast track. But money was short and, last summer, Gilbert almost decided it was time to leave. It was during a meeting with team chaplain Chette Williams that Gilbert decided he couldn't leave. "We were talking and praying," Gilbert said. "Something told me to stay." There were times last season that he wondered if he'd made the right decision. David Gibbs had replaced Chizik, and Gilbert rarely played on defense. "I don't know what it was," Gilbert said. "My teammates saw it. Fans were e-mailing me. I didn't know why I wasn't playing, but God sets things up for a reason. I was there to support my teammates, but I knew there wasn't going to be a chance of me playing because of the situation with the coach." In the game or on the sideline, Gilbert had already earned the admiration of his teammates. "He has a lot of respect," senior cornerback David Irons said. "Guys who are walk-ons have a lot to prove. He has to work hard every day. Now that he's a scholarship guy, he works even harder. He doesn't take a play off. He's going after it on every single play." When Muschamp replaced Gibbs in February, Gilbert saw a glimmer of hope. He got Muschamp's attention during spring practice and has made an even stronger move in preseason camp. He is a significant part of Auburn's defensive plans for the coming season. "Coach Muschamp's arrival was a great thing for me," Gilbert said. "He's a player's coach, not only on the field but off the field. He makes you go to class, makes you do your work. He checks up on his players all the time." In high school, Gilbert didn't imagine his road would be so hard. He thought he would get a scholarship, but the only offers were from small schools. He decided to reach for the sky. "I'm just as much of an athlete as those other guys out there," Gilbert said. "God organizes different people's paths in different ways. Some people have to walk-on and some people get scholarships. Some people's design is harder than others. "But it's all about getting there." Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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