The Latest from Priority Sports
The Latest from Priority Sports
Ulysees Gilbert was predestined to play football.
“My mom always told me that pretty much since I was born, I picked up a football and my brother picked up a basketball,” Gilbert recalled.
Growing up in Ocala, Florida, Gilbert started playing football at age five — and seemingly hasn’t put the football down since.
A standout at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Gilbert spent his first two seasons on the defensive line, but his game changing speed prompted a transition to linebacker ahead of his junior season.
As a senior, Gilbert was named Marion County Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 128 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, a sack, three interceptions and a pass breakup. He also excelled in the classroom, securing a 3.5 grade-point average all four years.
A three-star recruit out of high school, Gilbert was generating significant buzz on the recruiting circuit, particularly from the University of Cincinnati. After initially committing to Cincinnati, Gilbert began to have reservations about his decision, and consulted with his mother for advice. Opting to decommit from Cincinnati, the standout linebacker took an official visit to the University of South Florida — but was faced with yet another obstacle.
“On the last day, the defensive coordinator asked me to commit and I said ‘I want to, but I would have to tell the head coach,’ Gilbert explained. “I went in to have a meeting with the head coach, he didn’t let me commit, I walked out of the room and the defensive coordinator was confused why he didn’t let me. He said he’d talk to him at the meeting on Sunday and let me know Monday. I found out that he got fired that evening. I didn’t hear anything else from USF.”
Despite his disappointment, Akron and Appalachian State aggressively pursued the young linebacker late in the recruiting process. With all things fairly equal, Gilbert became enamored with the prospects of playing for legendary defensive coordinator Chuck Amato:
“I just heard so many good things about coach Amato, from him being a Hall of Fame caliber defensive coordinator at Florida State, to what he did at NC State. I looked up his resume and talked to a lot of coaches around my city and thought that was the best bet. That’s how I ended up at Akron.”
Gilbert played in all 13 games as a freshman, recording 11 tackles and a blocked kick. The Florida native also proved to be a force on special teams, seeing extensive action on the kickoff, kick return and punt return units.
His active freshman campaign would prove to be a foreshadowing of things to come.
When Gilbert returned for fall camp, there was little doubt that the 6-foot-1, 225-pound heat-seeking missile was primed to take the Mid-American Conference by storm. Gilbert led the Zips with 122 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles — on his way to earning first-team All-MAC honors.
Starting all 14 games at weakside linebacker as a junior, Gilbert once again earned first-team All-MAC honors after compiling 141 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four pass breakups, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
In a season full of memorable moments, Gilbert’s fondest memory was a play he made against Kent State to turn the season around:
“The game started off slow — we just felt like Kent was in the game with us — and I felt like I had to make something happen,” Gilbert recalled. “Right before half, they decided to run the ball. The play before that, he ran the ball and I saw the ball almost come out and I said ‘Next time, I’m stripping this ball.’ They ran it and I saw the opening — I stripped it, picked it up and scored. That literally changed the game.”
After putting together two compelling seasons, Gilbert began to garner national attention ahead of his senior season, and was named to the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy Watch Lists.
A second-team All-MAC performer, Gilbert notched 85 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, two touchdowns and a pass breakup. Playing in all 12 games, Gilbert tied an Akron record for most games played in his college career (51). The ascending playmaker also demonstrated his versatility to evaluators, starting every contest at strongside linebacker.
The list of accolades continued for the 21-year old, as he received an invitation to compete against some of college football’s elite at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Gilbert wasted little time showcasing his playmaking ability on the practice field. His speed and athleticism — coupled with his sideline to sideline range — made him one of the more pleasant surprises of Shrine week. While his range and athleticism immediately caught the eye of pro scouts and team personnel, perhaps even more impressive was Gilbert’s football IQ.
“I feel like I’m a student of the game, I love learning new techniques,” Gilbert said. “I love studying the game, I love studying my opponents — as well as myself and everyone around me — so I can understand who I’m playing with and how they play.”
Gilbert projects as a weakside linebacker at the next level, where his speed and range can be aptly utilized. His remarkable athleticism should enable him to have success tracking running backs out of the backfield and matching up against athletic tight ends.
With Akron’s pro day slated for March 22, the next week will be crucial for Gilbert. The former Zip plans to weigh-in at 225 pounds, and his goals include 25 reps or higher on bench, a 40-inch vertical and to run somewhere in the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash.
Whichever team is fortunate enough to land Gilbert on draft weekend will not only be getting an outstanding young linebacker, but someone wise beyond his years.
When asked if there was a particular quote he applies to his everyday life, Gilbert was quick to deliver a thought-provoking quote from Lucille Ball:
“It’s by Lucille Ball, its one of the quotes I recently got tatted on myself: Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world,” Gilbert recited. “I really felt that on a personal level, because I believe that self-love is very important in this world and something that a lot of people lack. It really starts with us — you can’t love anything else in this world, or expect anything else to happen if you don’t love yourself first.”