Feb. 1, 2010
With National Signing Day coming up on Wednesday, Feb. 3, UWBadgers.com is reflecting on last season’s Signing Day, focusing specifically on five true freshmen that made an impact on the field during the 2009 season. Today is the fourth of the five-part series and features defensive end David Gilbert. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the first three parts to the series.
MADISON, Wis. -- For most high school athletes that take part in National Signing Day, it’s a joyous time surrounded by family, friends and classmates. University of Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert felt a different emotion last season. He had enrolled in the university prior to the spring semester to get ready for spring practice and, therefore, was not at his high school for Signing Day.
“It was lonely,” he said. “I was up [in Madison] already. It was around this time we were getting into winter conditioning real heavy and I was adjusting.”
Gilbert missed out on the festivities, but was still looking forward to what the future would bring.
“I called a lot of my friends back home that had signed with different schools and it was an event for them, like at any school that’s proud of its kids,” he said. “I was still included in the ceremony, though.
“Signing day was exciting to see who we were going to get. I knew certain players and wanted to see where they would go. It’s an exciting time for everyone to see what their new horizons are going to be.”
The decision to enroll early was based on Gilbert’s desire to make an impact on the team as early as possible.
“I was coming off an injury toward the end of my senior year and I knew that if I wanted to be bigger and contribute my freshman year, I had to come in advanced,” he explained. “It was the best choice for me at the time and it paid off.”
The Coral Springs, Fla., native said he learned a lot from the upperclassmen and used his first year to get acclimated to his new life.
“I knew my roles were going to be limited through camp, but I tried to be the best that I could be,” he said. “I wanted to get on the field and give 100 percent. I had great senior leadership from the d-line, guys like O’Brien Schofield, Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle. I was just trying to do the right things all the time.
“I didn’t know what to expect; I had never played college football before, obviously. It’s never what you expect and there’s a lot of hype and hard work that goes into what happens on Saturday and learning that for the first time was probably the most important thing that happened to me last year.”
The highlight for Gilbert in the 2009 season came at home against Purdue when he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. He called it the “best moment” of the year.
“It was a perfect situation set up for me at the beginning of the week,” he elaborated. “My parents came up and they had never been up here at the same time. They brought my little brother. It was my birthday. It was Halloween, which is crazy in Madison.
“We were watching film on Tuesday of that week and Coach Bielema said that we could get a single man through and block it. Their shield was kind of closed so you could get it if you jump over it and block it. I mean, of course I can jump. I thought, ‘That ball is coming off right off the first protector’s back. If I could just get over it…’
Gilbert, who finished the season with six tackles and two fumble recoveries, raced through the line and leapt over the protectors, landing on his head. Aaron Henry scooped up the ball and brought it in for the score.
“It was just one of those things were the pieces fall into place perfectly,” Gilbert said. “I did it and it was unbelievable. All I remember was looking at the ground after I hit the ball with my hand and looking at the turf. It was electrifying. But that only makes me push myself harder to make bigger plays and have a bigger impact next year.”
With one season in the books, Gilbert is looking forward to what the rest of his career will bring.
“[The season] was better than I what I originally thought it was going to be,” he said. “Everyone comes in fighting for a starting spot and, as a freshman, sometimes you come in and see the level of the guys that are playing above you and you don’t think you’re going to play or you get discouraged at times. I just used that as a stepping stone to get me better, to see where my game should be or to see how much higher I want my game to be like the guys playing over me, and, by no means, ever got complacent with where you’re at. It was a great freshman year. I can’t complain at all. I just wanted to use that to get better every day.”
Previous entries in the series
UW Athletic Communications