As a 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore, the odds of Richmond (Va.) Monacan offensive lineman Justin Gilbert becoming a Division I player at that position were essentially nonexistent.
Two years, four inches and 65 pounds later, Gilbert is the happy beneficiary of a startling growth spurt that allowed him to beat those odds.
According to Danny Parsons, Gilbert’s coach at Monacan, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound Terps offensive tackle commitment is still adapting to that unforeseen body transformation.
“I think he’s still getting used to carrying that weight,” Parsons said. “He got so big so fast. Heck, he might even grow another inch. He might even get to 6-7. ... He’s never been a fat kid or muscled up -- just a tall thinner guy who just kept on growing, got bigger and bigger. He’s never been a big overweight guy or anything like that. You look at him and you can tell he’ll be able to, with [Maryland’s] weight program, that he’ll be able to put on an easy 20-25 pounds.”
During his senior season, Gilbert played both ways for Monacan, accumulating 22 tackles, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble, despite missing three and a half games on defense due to an ankle injury.
A Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch All-Metro selection, Gilbert helped guide Monacan to a 6-5 record and the program’s first playoff berth since the 2000 season. According to Parsons, Monacan has had several recent players go from prep school or junior college to the Division I level, but Gilbert -- to Parsons’ knowledge -- is the first direct high school to DI Monacan player.
Parsons said Monacan’s on-field success was due in some part to Gilbert’s individual improvement.
“He’s gotten more aggressive,” Parsons said, “and his technique has gotten so much better. He’s always gone to a lot of camps and always worked on his individual techniques as well as hand placement. He also worked on strength in the weight room and he’s gotten quicker in the feet. That’s what [coaches] really look for. He can run a 5.0 40, so he runs pretty well for a kid that size. He’s got some athletic ability.”
Maryland wasn’t the first school to recognize that athletic ability (and size), but the Terps were one of the biggest. Army, East Carolina, Marshall, Richmond and James Madison were some of the schools recruiting Gilbert, and Virginia Tech also came forward with a grayshirt offer.
According to Parsons, the Terps weren’t all that interested in Gilbert based on his tape. But when he came up to College Park for Maryland’s summer camp, the coaches were sold on his potential. One factor that ultimately sold Gilbert on Maryland over Virginia Tech was the business program.
“I know his grades are very good,” Parsons said. “He’s got a GPA higher than a 3.5. He’s a good kid, well liked by teachers, stuff like that. That’s what I told [Maryland offensive line] coach [Tom] Brattan -- he’s a typical offensive lineman. You never hear about an offensive lineman getting in trouble ... so he’s one of those guys. He’s a little bit of a country type kid -- likes to hunt, stuff like that.”
As for football, Parsons has high expectations for his star left tackle when he arrives in College Park, but notes that Gilbert’s development will take some time.
“I talked to coach Brattan, [and Justin's] going to be a redshirt,” Parsons said. “They’ll beef him up, let him learn the systems. As a redshirt freshman, he’s probably not going to crack the lineup then, but as a redshirt sophomore, he’ll crack the two-deep.
“He’s smart, runs well and has good feet. So he has all that going for him. Now he really looks the part. ... I know [Maryland puts] out some good linemen. He’s got that build and I think he’s got the work ethic. Maybe he can even go to the next level. I don’t know if that’s possible, but hey, there’s always a shot.”