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God, Country, Notre Dame: Gilman has evolved into a central leader for Notre Dame, drawing from his experiences in Hawaii, Naval Academy

| Friday, November 22, 2019

It’s one of the more unique rivalries in college football. Third-longest uninterrupted matchup in college football, the longest consecutive win streak over the same opponent and a number of marquee locations, Notre Dame-Navy has certain quality that differentiates it from other rivalries: respect. Perhaps no one knows this quality better than Irish senior safety and captain Alohi Gilman, who’s lived it from both sides of the field.

“When I was at Navy playing against Notre Dame, obviously we had a huge respect for Notre Dame and now being at Notre Dame playing against Navy, I have huge respect for the guys there,” Gilman said. “Some of my best friends play on the team right now.”

Gilman’s path to Notre Dame has been anything but ordinary. Originally from Laie, Hawaii, Gilman spent his first year out of high school at the Naval Academy Prep School. Following a year there, he officially enrolled in Naval Academy, playing one season with the Midshipmen and helping lead them to a 9-5 record, including a one-point victory over the Irish. Having expired one year of eligibility Gilman then transferred to Notre Dame, forcing him to sit out the 2017 season. While Gilman seriously considered joining the Irish on the other side of another historic rivalry — USC — he said ultimately Notre Dame checked all the boxes he was looking for in a school.

Zachary Yim | The Observer

Irish senior safety Alohi Gilman steps back to guard the pass during Notre Dame’s 21-20 victory over Virginia Tech on Nov. 2 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Football checked out, checked the boxes, academically they are great. The networking was great, you know, all those areas that you kind of look at,” Gilman said. “But overall, I just felt really comfortable here. I felt like this was a unique place, fit my personality. And I just fell in love with the culture here and that tradition, coming from a program like Navy that already had some of that culture and tradition. So this was something that I was obviously attracted to.”

After sitting out the 2017 season, Gilman took college football by storm, starting all 13 games, recording five pass break-ups, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and setting a program bowl game record for tackles with 19 against Clemson. Although he often made it look easy, Gilman said that journey came with a lot of challenges and growth along the way.

“It’s been a big, big learning experience for me,” he said. “Coming from a transfer player to now being a captain of the team, and a lot of ups and downs but it’s definitely made me to the person I am today. Just working through different situations, figure out how to be the best player, best teammate I can be.”

Despite being in only his second year in the Irish uniform, Gilman has distinguished himself as a vocal leader for the program on and off the field, often rallying the defense in important moments. In many ways, his development as a leader ultimately led to him being named one of seven captains can be attributed to his time spent at the Academy.

“Navy’s a very unique place, it forces you to grow up really fast,” he said. “Challenges you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically obviously. So just a place where it really challenged me and a place that forced me to grow up and learn how to be a leader, learn how to be also be a follower, learn how to take orders and be disciplined and organized. Those things were definitely huge to the person I am today.”

Those leaderships skills continue to evolve, even throughout this past season.

“This season has been an interesting one, just a different, different dynamic for me,” Gilman said. “Obviously, being an older guy now being a senior, someone where the younger guys look up to definitely gave me a better perspective on how to be the someone that someone can lean on, how to communicate better with people, and just being yourself, being genuine and being a guy who people can talk to you.”

Gilman’s future still has a few question marks ahead. He still has one year of eligibility remaining but would be returning for a sixth year of school since graduating high school. While he might toy around with entering the NFL draft or moving on after graduation, his focus right now is on the next three games.

“Personal goal [would] be three wins. I think that’ll be something that’ll be real nice,” Gilman said. “I’m just looking forward to enjoying every moment, honestly just enjoying the moments here on the field of my guys. I’m really excited for this game this weekend.”

That ability to stay in the moment and soak it all in continues on Saturday, when Gilman will take the field with friends on both sides of the ball.

“I think [I’m] just excited. Excited to play against my guys at Navy,” he said. “Those are some of my best friends. Guys who [we] went through some challenges, some adversity together. So that’s a touchy one for me because … those guys helped me get through my trials there so although it’s going to be a bittersweet thing, it’s fun and I’m excited to play against them again.”

However, once the flyover commences and Gilman marches toward center field with the capital “C” stitched to his number 11 jersey, there’s no question where his loyalties lie.

“Respect is a huge thing and but at the same time, when we take the field, when the ball tees up, you know, you’re trying to win and knock each other’s heads off,” he said.

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