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This Guy Plays Notre Dame Football: #11 Alohi Gilman, Safety

Alohi Gilman has already proven he’s the real deal. Will 2019 be his All-American season?

alohi gilman notre dame football
Alohi Gilman with his best Gladiator impersonation.
Mike Miller/One Foot Down

And so begins another round of “This Guy Plays Notre Dame Football” here on OFD. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a roster full of players, and we want to talk about them all. One Foot Down’s player profile series will take a look at every single one of them, and hopefully we all learn a little bit more about these guys, and Notre Dame’s chances for the upcoming 2019 season.

#11 Alohi Gilman, S

Just a few seasons ago, safety was considered easily one of the weakest position groups on the Notre Dame roster. Remember when poor Devin Studstill had to play significant time/start some games as a true freshman back there in 2016? Remember how bad that young, inexperienced defense was for that 4-8 team?

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

While Brian VanGorder’s last Irish defense was getting regularly eviscerated by offenses as bad as the Duke Blue Devils, over in Annapolis, a freshman from Hawaii named Alohi Gilman was having himself quite the rookie season.

Gilman came in as an unranked defensive back in 2016 with no offers from anyone, and managed to pick up 76 tackles (5 for loss) as a freshman while also notching 5 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 fumble return touchdown. He was an animal out there, and was even a key piece in the Midshipmen’s win over ND that season, racking up 12 tackles in the victory.

So, it was a no-brainer when Gilman sought out ND as a transfer spot — he decided to leave the Naval Academy due to a change in rules requiring players to serve before they turn pro — Brian Kelly and his staff HAD to take him, considering what he might be able to do to bolster the back line of the defense.

NCAA Football: Houston at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2017 season during which Gilman had to sit out because the NCAA refuses to show any reason when handing out eligibility waivers (someone please explain Tate Martell’s immediate eligibility at Miami in 2019, please and thank you), Gilman entered 2018 as a starting safety in first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s defense, under the tutelage of first-year safeties coach Terry Joseph.

Gilman (along with fellow junior Jalen Elliott) was nothing short of magnificent, showing from the very first game against Michigan that he had a nose for flying all over the field, making big plays, and constantly being there to make sure-handed tackles.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

His final numbers showed he was one of the best safeties in the country already after just one season in South Bend, as he totaled 94 tackles (3 for loss), had 5 passes defended, picked off 2 passes (both against #12 Syracuse in a huge November win for the Irish), and forced a fumble.

Overall, he was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated safety at the FBS level in 2018. Is that good?

Needless to say, Alohi Gilman is already a proven, certifiable stud in Clark Lea’s defense, and with the losses of Jerry Tillery, Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, and Julian Love, the ND defense will need him to take his game to yet another level in 2019.

Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, or Chicago

“Look What You Made Me Do” - Taylor Swift

This was T-Swift’s song that changed her vibe a bit (or, at least, tried to) to a darker, more in-your-face attitude, and to me it fits perfectly with Gilman’s fiery, trash-talking persona on the field. Gilman got underrated/ignored by everyone as a recruit, got shut down by the NCAA on immediate eligibility in 2017, and then came out in 2018 and just absolutely kicked ass. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and plays with an edge that says “you slighted me, now look what you made me do.”

Hey Dog HEY!

Doing our best to make sure you know which one of man’s best friends match each Notre Dame player.

Doberman Pinscher

The Doberman Pinscher, according to Wikipedia, is known to be intelligent, alert, not heavy-footed, driven, strong, and sometimes a bit stubborn. They may get a reputation as being aggressive/mean (because of their penchant for trash talking, I assume), but really they’re just tenaciously loyal and make excellent guard dogs, which seems fitting considering Gilman is often one of the last lines of defense between opponents and the end zone.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

2019 Outlook

It’s admittedly going to be pretty tough for Alohi Gilman to top his 2018 season. He exceeded all expectations, was quite possibly the best safety in the nation, and was able to fly all over the field and make plays with the knowledge and peace of mind that he had an All-American in Julian Love locking down one side and a very good corner in Troy Pride Jr. handling his business on the other side (not to mention his classmate Jalen Elliott holding it down next to him). Oh, and he also had Jerry Tillery collapsing the pocket every other play while Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney completely controlled the middle of the field.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now, with Love, Tillery, Tranquill, and Coney gone, and heightened expectations for his individual play (especially considering he is almost a shoo-in to be a captain in 2019), Gilman will have to carry a bigger portion of the defensive load if the Irish are to field a defensive unit that comes anywhere close to last season’s group that finished 10th in the country in the S&P+ defensive rankings.

With all that said, who’s gonna be the person to tell Alohi Gilman that he can’t take his game to another level, become the undeniable leader of Clark Lea’s second-year defense, and earn himself some All-American recognition along the way? I certainly won’t.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I think because the Irish will still have a devastating pass rush on the edge with Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, and Daelin Hayes, and with some key veterans stepping up their games around/in front of him (Pride Jr., Elliott, senior LB Asmar Bilal), Gilman will assume the leadership mantle thrust upon him, inspire the troops with his passion and attitude, and have himself the best season a safety has had at Notre Dame since the likes of Zeke Motta or maybe even Harrison Smith roamed the defensive backfield.

It may not be enough to field an equal-or-better unit than the elite 2018 crew, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort, leadership, or performance level from Alohi Gilman. You can take that to the bank.

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