Raised Tough: From his childhood to a year at Navy, junior safety Alohi Gilman has cultivated a physicality and energy that has strengthened Notre Dame’s defense
Joe Everett | Friday, November 16, 2018
Dedication. Leadership. Competitiveness. Toughness.
Alohi Gilman has been molded by his experiences to adopt these traits. With a long and rugged journey in his past, from the island of Hawaii to the Naval Academy to Notre Dame, the junior safety has come to terms with himself and who he truly is. Now, having embraced where his journey has taken him, Gilman is proud to define himself by these characteristics. For the 5-foot-11, 202-pound athlete from Laie, Hawaii — it was his family, his childhood and his community back home that most profoundly shaped him into the person he is today.
“[I’m from] a very small town, in the country of Oahu … the country for us is the mountains and not the big cities,” Gilman said. “I was pretty much raised with sports … my family was a big sports family, my sister played rugby in college and my other sister played water polo, and I’m next. I got a younger brother who’s playing right now in high school and is getting recruited — plays the same position as me — so I was pretty much raised within sports in my community. The thing about our community is that we didn’t have much, so sports was our fallback and our way of expressing ourselves. I didn’t have television or video games — I was raised outside. After school, I did my chores, homework and went outside and played, ran around — that’s just kind of the nature of how we lived. So naturally we ended up being a lot more competitive … if you ask any of [my family] they’d say we’re all pretty competitive.”
Gilman specifically credits his father, Asai Gilman, who played football at Southern Utah, for teaching him to love sports and how to play the right way.
“I’d say the major [support] came from my dad, specifically. He drove us to play all the sports,” Gilman said. “I played a bunch of sports when I was young, and he was just that person who always wanted us to compete and wanted us to push to get better in whatever we do. He taught me at a young age that whatever you do, you got to commit to it, so that’s kind of the background behind just playing, becoming competitive and pursuing a sport here.”
The elder Gilman has since founded a football school in Hawaii called DB Tech academy, which helps prepare student-athletes — from young kids to college ones — for success on and off the field. Alohi was one of his best students.
“Talking football, [my dad’s taught me so much … He teaches the techniques of playing defensive back, so I learned a lot from him and he continues to mentor me as I play,” Gilman said. “My younger brother I’ve kind of picked up along the way. He was kind of my best friend growing up, so we did everything together, and now he’s in the process of doing his recruiting deal, which is pretty cool to see. Having them and their support … throughout the process has been great.”
A three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track at Kahuku High School, Gilman graduated in 2015 with his eye on the Naval Academy — a good fit given his propensity for toughness and determination. He spent a year at the Naval Academy Prep School, then started playing football for the Midshipmen in 2016. It was an experience that would change his life.
“I can definitely say that I am the person I am today because I went to Navy,” Gilman said. “There’s just so many things that I learned, from time management, being tough, accountability, being a leader in different ways — those characteristics I learned: how to lead people, how to teach people and how to teach myself to be humble and continue to serve others are some things I’ll take on for the rest of my life. It’s definitely one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever done.”
Yet, as formative as the Naval Academy was for Gilman, he began to realize it ultimately wasn’t meant for him and where he wanted to go.
“I played my freshman year, and obviously I knew going in that there was service commitment … but I came to realize that I wasn’t as passionate about the military service, although I respect it and thought it was a great opportunity. Then, in April of 2017, they made a rule change — the Department of Defense — that if you want to go professional you have to serve first, so that ultimately pushed me over to coming here and pursuing a dream of playing at the next level.”
With his sights set on an eventual NFL career, Gilman transferred to Notre Dame — a team he had recorded 12 tackles against the previous season in Navy’s 28-27 win over the Irish — intent on playing right away. However, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for a year due to transfer rules, so Gilman was forced to put his ultimate passion on hold. However, he now reflects on how much he grew over that year, in various ways.
“Obviously physically, [Notre Dame] was a big help for me. Worked with Coach Balis a lot. I physically got stronger, faster and bigger. But it was an interesting process; it was pretty frustrating, knowing that I could compete right away and wasn’t going to get the opportunity,” Gilman said. “It was one of those things where … you kind of have to find yourself in different ways. That year I found who I was as a person. The players definitely helped me out, getting me more comfortable here and creating a lot of relationships, so that was huge for me coming in … it was a great year that really shaped me as a person and shaped me as a player as well.”
It’s no surprise, then, that playing again this season has been a joy for the junior safety.
“Everyday I just count my many blessings, just because I know how it feels to not play, and I just thank the man above for that opportunity,” Gilman said. “Every day I just try to come out with a humble attitude, and I know we’re No. 3 and all that, but I’m just coming out every day playing like it’s my last and getting to spend this opportunity with my teammates … I’ll continue to cherish it as we continue this journey.”
Gilman himself has been a blessing for Clark Lea’s defense. The junior safety has recorded 58 tackles and forced a fumble this season for the Irish, but more importantly has shored up an Irish defense that has benefited from his toughness, leadership and elite mentality.
“First and foremost, it’s just being physical,” Gilman said. “I think that’s just kind of how I’ve played my whole life and how I was raised with that physical nature. So being able to play physical was one of the traits that I think I bring to the table. Besides that, just having the attitude of competing every time we get on the field, not matter who it is in the backfield or who’s out there: I’m going to compete, and I’m going to win. That’s kind of my mindset going into any play, any game, any situation. I try to bring that into the rest of the group, and by doing that we kind of feed off the energy of each other and give each other confidence.”
It’s clear that Notre Dame football, both on and off the field, has benefited from the sterling example set by Gilman. As Alohi himself begins to reap the fruits of his labor, he always remembers where his journey all started: the mountains of Hawaii and his family back in Laie.
“It’s 100 percent [a result of] being raised at home,” Gilman said of where he gets his toughness from. “My dad, specifically, he raised me tough, he raised me pretty tough. We had some rough times … but [it comes from] being raised in the neighborhood where I was. The kids at home are all raised the way I was raised — they’re all like that. Everything, from how I was raised at home, to my dad — that’s just the nature of who I became as an athlete.”