Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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18 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE A lohi Gilman has never neces- sarily felt lost or overwhelmed by his continual relocation. But going all the way back to 2011, the Notre Dame junior has just wanted to finally find a place to call home. After attending six schools in five different states over seven years, this Fighting Irish safety seems to have finally planted his roots. Since his sophomore high school year back in home-state Hawai'i, life's path has taken Gilman to Utah in the Mountain West, to Rhode Island and Maryland on the East Coast, and fi- nally to Notre Dame in the Midwest. S o u t h B e n d i s the first stop he has called home for more than one year since his jour- neys began, and a place where he is finally a true team member after frus- tratingly sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules and a complicated appeals pro- cess that didn't go his way. "It's humbling for sure when you're not playing," said Gilman, who has made an immediate impact already this season as a leader, com- municator and versatile playmaker. Growing up in the town of Laie on the Oahu Island — a stone's throw from where former Irish standouts/ friends Manti Te'o and Robby Toma lived — Gilman attended a private high school through his sophomore year about 30 miles away in Honolulu. His next stop, as a prep junior, was at Orem (Utah) High School with his family, who moved to the area because his sister played rugby at nearby Utah Valley University. Gilman returned to Oahu for his senior year where he wrapped up his high school career at a public school, football power Kahuku, in the neighborhood where he lived. Void of video games and most other electronic creature comforts, Gilman's upbringing was modest and at times surreal compared to what most ado- lescents are used to. Gilman shared a funny but sincere story of how for en- tertainment, he and his buddies would chase and catch chickens in the streets in and around his neighborhood. "I guess you could say 'island liv- ing,'" Gilman explained, "We didn't have much when we were growing up." Following high school, Gilman re- turned to the U.S. mainland to attend The Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., for one year before playing football the next at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. After one season playing under fel- low Laie native, former University of Hawai'i quarterback and veteran Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Gilman decided in the spring of 2017 to transfer to Notre Dame. Gilman's decision was in no small part caused after a ruling in May 2017 by the U.S. Defense Department to rescind its decision from a year earlier that allowed service academy athletes with professional prospects to skip their two years of mandatory active duty upon graduation and pursue their athletic careers instead. "I didn't feel like I was passionate about the service commitment, so I decided to step away," Gilman said, stressing that his first career choice after graduation is playing in the NFL. "The whole transfer process was tough. "It was a big decision. It was scary because you have a set future in the military." Notre Dame tried unsuccessfully to use the unique circumstances of the Defense Department's ruling and Gil- man's relocation situation as a reason to waive the NCAA rule requiring players to sit out a season upon transferring. It didn't happen, so there was Gil- man — ready to perhaps even start at Notre Dame after finishing second on Navy's team with 76 tackles in 2016 as a freshman safety — assigned to the Irish scout team. Gilman admits now that not be- ing part of the active roster, he could hardly even watch Notre Dame play last season, and often didn't, espe- cially when his teammates were on a road trip without him. And that's why going from an anonymous scout team player after his transfer a year ago to an opening day starter this season has given the 5-10½, 202-pound future team captain can- didate an added appreciation for be- ing one of the guys again. "Being able to play and step on the field and interact and go through the process is great," he said. "I'm humbled and I'm grateful every day for the opportunity. You can't take anything for granted." Coach Kelly said that the Hawai- ian connection between Gilman and some current a n d f o r m e r I r i s h p l a y e r s sparked a mu- t u a l t r a n s f e r i n t e r e s t a n d b r o u g h t t h e p l a y e r a n d coach together after the 2016 s e a s o n . O f course, having Gilman record a career-high 12 tackles that season during a 28-27 Navy upset of Notre Dame probably helped catch the coach's eye as well. "A few phone calls were made le- gally during that period of time," Kelly explained, "and we pursued the transfer regulations." From there, the relationship has become symbiotic — Gilman gets a chance to chase his NFL dream, se- cure a college degree and finally call a place home. "I felt coming here, academics and football lined up," Gilman said of choosing Notre Dame over Arizona and USC for his transfer stop. "I felt they were going in the right direc- tion and that I could contribute right away." Meanwhile, Notre Dame fortified a defensive position group of great need and a leadership void from last season. "He's a special kid," Irish defen- sive coordinator Clark Lea said. "Guys follow him, listen to him and trust him. He's got 'it' as a leader. "We want to harness that and let it shine as he goes." ✦ ADDED APPRECIATION Safety Alohi Gilman is happy to be back on the field after sitting out last year Gilman made seven tackles (one for loss) and broke up two passes to help the Irish knock off Michigan 24-17 Sept. 1. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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