Gilbert, football now a mutual love affair

Communications Tech's Diquan Gilbert, a senior leader at outside linebacker.
Communications Tech's Diquan Gilbert, a senior leader at outside linebacker. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 28, 2012

MANY PEOPLE never would have pegged Diquan Gilbert for eventual football stardom.

Prominent among the doubters? Good, ol' Gilbert himself.

Even now, though he routinely fashions eye-popping performances at outside linebacker (he also plays running back) for Communications Tech, Gilbert acknowledges that his love for football is exceeded by his mother's.

He also confesses to this: When he was getting started with the sport, he was never in the running to win the Most Dedicated trophy. In fact . . .

"I was scared of football. That's the truth," he said, laughing. "I was out there for one reason: My mom [Crystal] forced me. I'd watch TV and see these huge guys smashing each other around and I'd wonder why anyone would want to do that.

"I mean, I liked watching it, but I didn't want to play. I had Madden [video game], and on there, you see guys gettin' flipped. I'd think, 'Not for me. That's crazy. No way.' "

Crystal ruled, however, and Gilbert began playing football, as a sixth-grader, for the South Philly Sharks.

"All I thought about was getting hurt," he said. "I was even asking people, 'Will they have a nurse on the field?'

"They had this mandatory rule that every kid had to get on the field for at least seven plays. I didn't even want to do that. I'd stand there with my cleats untied, so I wouldn't be able to go right on the field and the coach would have to send in somebody else."

Ultimately, Gilbert got with the program and even helped the Sharks win a 135-pound title 2 years later. Now, the 6-1, 205-pound senior is on Penn State's radar - he recently received a personalized letter - and other prominent schools have requested tapes.

Comm Tech, a small school in deep Southwest Philly, hard by the airport (planes flew pretty darn low over Thursday's gloomy-skies practice), has never been confused with a football factory. Only 22 players were present for the session and the school's number of available guys rarely bumps up much past 25.

Last February, though, Gilbert repped the Phoenix in spectacular fashion, finishing No. 1 among 1,200-odd Philly-area participants (mostly seniors-to-be) in the Nike Football SPARQ Combine at the Eagles' NovaCare complex. Aside from tossing a power ball from a kneeling position, Gilbert ran the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle, while mixing in a vertical jump.

"That boosted my confidence," he said. "Nobody was paying me any mind before that."

The next Nike stop was Baltimore, and again Gilbert fared well. Alas, he said, there was a mixup with jersey numbers and he wasn't tabbed to travel to Oregon for the national final.

"There's a video online that shows me, but it lists some other kid's name," Gilbert said. "My mom was heated about all that. She's my biggest fan. She calls me 'Pop' and you can hear her nonstop during games. 'Pop! . . . Pop! . . . Pop!' But like I said to her, 'What could we really do?' I was happy with what I did."

Gilbert's parents (dad is David) are constants at games, as is Diquan's 3-year-old nephew, Dylan, all dressed up like a player (though his "helmet" is a hockey mask).

"He's my inspiration," Diquan said. "He wants to know everything."

Though Gilbert's defensive position in 2011 was end, he now plays outside linebacker, because coach John Gossett figures that's his projected spot for college. Gossett loves Gilbert's possibilities, by the way, and believes he could really flourish, with focus, in a demanding college program.

"Coach knows the d-ends in college are 6-3, 6-4, so he wants me standing up on the outside," Gilbert said. "I can get in there pretty fast off the edge. It's frustrating when teams send three to four people at me, or when I chase a guy to the other side and I'm still getting hit by the fullback, but overall I love linebacker.

"You get to hit. Everything is you. You get contact on every play. We control the defense, me and Abdur [Saaba, currently injured]."

Gilbert said he has most of his best football conversations with his mother. Mostly because she continually gets things scrambled.

"She cannot get things straight between the o-line and outside linebacker," he said, smiling. "I keep telling her, 'Mom, O means offense! Linebackers play defense!' And then, when she starts to understand a little, she'll mess up and think I'm a cornerback instead of a linebacker. She always goes, 'Don't you play Nnamdi's position?' [referring to Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha]. But my mom, she's the best. If not for her, I don't know if I'd be playing. I do this for her."

The Gilbert family can be found on 78th near Buist, a short walk from Comm Tech. Gossett describes the personable Diquan as being a true class clown "and pretty much like a 14-year-old." In college, Diquan figures he wants to study architecture.

All along, he has loved his time at Comm Tech.

"When I walked out of that Philly SPARC, some [high school] coach was all over me," Gilbert said. "Wanted my phone number. Said he wanted me at his school. I told him he could talk to my dad if he wanted, but that I wasn't goin' nowhere.

"Comm Tech, this is my family."

And now, Diquan Gilbert is that family's star. Who would have thought . . .


Contact Ted Silary at silaryt@phillynews.com. High school coverage online at www.philly.com/rally.

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