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Alohi Gilman offers hunger, experience to stop Navy option attack

| Friday, October 26, 2018

When Notre Dame faces the vaunted Navy triple-option offense in San Diego on Saturday, a recent staple of the Irish defense won’t be on the field.

For all the hype the unit has received under Clark Lea this season, no one on the roster comes close to matching the ability of former Irish linebacker Greer Martini in stopping the Midshipmen: In last season’s 24-17 win on Senior Day, he registered 15 tackles, seven of which were solo takedowns.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish junior safety Alohi Gilman tackles a Pittsburgh opponent during Notre Dame’s 14-19 win over the Panthers on Oct. 13 at Notre Dame Stadium.

But without Martini, the Irish are hoping a new face can help the unit handle the unique situation Navy’s offense presents: starting free safety and former Navy player Alohi Gilman, who brings both the experience of knowing the offense, and also an eagerness to meet it — and his former teammates — on the field.

“I love [playing against it],” Gilman said of facing Navy’s offense for the first time since transferring in 2016. “It’s aggressive, it’s competition, it’s a chess match, a chess match offense. I’m always down for some aggressive hitting. I have some experience with the triple option, I played against it for some years and played against other service academies. I think I have some knowledge and tips I can give to some of the guys — and I have been — but at the same time, I’m not going to beat the triple option.”

But that doesn’t mean his knowledge and expertise aren’t valued.

“He went against it for two years everyday, so obviously he knows the keys and tendencies and get pre-snap reads on plays,” graduate student and captain Drue Tranquill said about Gilman’s impact. “He’s going to be a huge help for us.”

Senior linebacker Te’von Coney echoed Tranquill’s sentiments.

“We always challenge each other each and every week, so this week he’s been challenging guys to go faster, to keep their reads, quicker and everything,” Coney said of how Gilman has helped lead by example. “It’s lovely having a guy who played over there and who has a little bit of knowledge, and you know we always pick each other’s brain. He tells me to get better every day and that’s what makes us great.”

Gilman said he hopes the help he’s been able to offer proves beneficial.

“Yeah, I mean guys have asked me, ‘What do you see there, what are your thoughts on this and that?’ So I’ve given some feedback,” he said. “The coaches have done a good job as well of preparing us.”

As a true freshman at Navy in 2016, Gilman played a major role for the Midshipmen, finishing second on the team in tackles with 76, and helping Navy beat Notre Dame 28-27. But ultimately, the Hawaii native elected to transfer, and after being forced to sit out a year after his move, the junior has emerged as a leader in the Irish secondary.

While Gilman’s road to Notre Dame wasn’t an easy one, nearly everyone recognizes his ability to make the most of any opportunity.

“It’s nothing personal. He wants to go the NFL and it’s been a dream of his and that’s not your goal here,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said regarding Gilman’s decision. “It’s nothing against the school, it’s nothing against the players, he just has some other goals. You can’t fault the kid for that. I’m happy for him. He’s playing, and playing well. … He’s a really good kid from a great family. Obviously, we wish he was playing for us, but he’s doing good things.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Gilman’s impact has been evident in many ways during his first season at Notre Dame.

“I would say the first thing that he does is he brings kind of a toughness, if you will, a swagger to our defensive back field,” Kelly said. “I think it’s rubbed off a little bit on our safeties. Certainly he’s a really good player. He’s athletic. He’s tough. He can play the ball.”

Reiterating Kelly’s thoughts, Tranquill pointed to Gilman’s ferocity and work ethic as his greatest strengths.

“It’s just an intensity — he makes plays in the run game for us, he makes plays in the pass game,” Tranquill said. “I think of Michigan when he was knocking balls down from tight ends, jumping over me when I had a pass interference against Stanford, if not that would’ve been a SportsCenter top-10 play. He’s just a dynamic player who makes plays for us.”

In the end, Gilman is happy he’s gone through an experience that will culminate in suiting up for the Irish on Saturday.

“No regrets at all,” he said. “If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

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