Blue and Gold Illustrated

June July 2018

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

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Page 30 of 63 JUNE/JULY 2018 31 BY LOU SOMOGYI S eldom has Notre Dame ever had a more mature "sopho- more" than current safety Alohi Gilman. That's because in nor- mal circumstances, Gilman would be entering his senior season in 2018. A 2015 graduate of Kahuku (Hawai'i) High School, the 5-10½, 200-pound Gilman attended the Na- val Academy Prep School during the 2015-16 academic year, which to other classmates would have been freshman year of college. In 2016, Gilman starred for the Midshipmen — he was their second- leading tackler with 76, including a career-high 12 in a win over Notre Dame — and this past academic year (2017-18) he sat out in what would have been the junior year of college. After investing a couple of years at Navy, Gilman has come to peace with his choice. "Being in the system for a while and deciding to leave was a big decision," Gilman said. "It was scary. I had a set future in the military, and now I was going to something that was a risk." The rewards from that risk might be coming to fruition. Even as a practice player last season at Notre Dame, Gil- man left an indelible leadership mark. "The guys follow him, they lis- ten to him, they trust him," Notre Dame second-year linebackers coach and first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea said of Gilman. "It's appar- ent. He's consistent, he's dependable, all the things you want. He's got 'It' as a leader. We want to harness that and let that shine." Head coach Brian Kelly already sensed it last fall, when he stated un- equivocally that Gilman would have started at safety for the Irish. "I couldn't even begin to tell you what he does," Kelly said at the start of last November of Gilman. "We have 6 a.m. lift every Friday with our developmental guys. He has a meet- ing with them every Thursday to make sure everyone is there at 5:45. He's a great leader. "He is an impactful player on our demo scout team. He challenges all of our guys on a day-to-day basis. His presence is known in our program. Everybody respects him and knows he's going to impact this program next year. He's already doing that in the roles that he can right now." Gilman candidly admits he wasn't always selfless after having his appeal to the NCAA to play in 2017 denied. "Man, it was difficult," Gilman said. "There were times during scout team where I purposely … I would want to get kicked out because it was so tough not playing real football, just holding the cards [play signal for the scout team], trying to give my guys a good look. I succeeded. I got kicked off a few times." If there was any good that came from it, it was that he spent extra time with director of performance Matt Balis, who would sometimes hold double-day sessions with the ambitious Gilman. "Through that whole process of sitting out, obviously as a competi- tor it was tough, just watching on the sidelines, especially knowing that I could have contributed right away," Gilman said. "At the end of the day, it was a good experience for me to focus on myself as a player and what I can do to be a better leader, a better player physically." The 2018 Notre Dame defense re- turns nine of the 11 starters from last year's 10-3 unit, but there was still a lot of movement at safety this spring with the presence of two new 'G Men' at safety: Gilman and early enrollee Houston Griffith, Rivals' highest- ranked recruit (No. 43 overall player nationally) in Notre Dame's 2018 class. The influx and impact of the two this spring helped result in shifting sopho- mores and former safeties Isaiah Rob- ertson and Jordan Genmark Heath to rover and Buck linebacker, respectively. Also, senior Nick Coleman, who started all 13 games at safety last season, worked as the nickel back, although he can still help at safety. Meanwhile, junior Devin Studstill, who started nine games at safety as a 2016 freshman, was working just to crack the second unit this spring. Although nothing is etched in stone at safety heading into Au- gust camp, it was clear at the end of spring that junior incumbent Jalen Elliott, another 13-game starter last year, was the No. 1 strong safety while Gilman was the top option at free safety, with Griffith right in the mix along with Coleman. The position had to be earned by Gilman, whose eagerness to play worked against him initially and got him burned on occasion. "In the beginning of spring I was a little antsy," Gilman said. "… I thought physically I'm just going to be out there ready to go and start making plays. It was a lot different than that. I have to get ready men- tally before physically." Last August he was absorbing the new defense the first week or two, but once his appeal to the NCAA was de- nied, Gilman worked exclusively with the scout team. There, his job was to learn the opposing team's defense that week to better prepare the offense. "This is all pretty new for me," Gilman said. "I'm just picking up from scratch. It's a process for sure. I started off slower than I wanted to. "It was a little frustrating in the beginning, but as time went on I'm able to pick up things and the more comfortable I'm getting, the more I'm able to make plays and put myself in position to make them." In the Blue-Gold Game he recorded six tackles and, after a snafu, stripped the football from sophomore wide re- ceiver Michael Young, a fumble that Gilman also recovered. At Navy, Gilman lined up at safety, cornerback and even outside line- backer. Such experience helped de- velop him as a leader … and not your average sophomore at Notre Dame. ✦ THE VETERAN 'SOPHOMORE' Alohi Gilman brings instant leadership and vast skills at safety Gilman's presence helped lead to more competi- tion and some position shifts at safety during the spring. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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