Late signee pushing for early playing time

The annual Alabama-Mississippi high school football all-star game is generally a chance to show off skills and compete for bragging rights across the border. Many of the athletes in the game have already signed either with a top-notch Division I school or a junior college, but a few players use the chance to show their skills for schools that may have a scholarship left open.

That was the case for Wallace Gilberry, a 6-2, 239-pound defensive end from Baldwin County High School in Bay Minette. Gilberry had no Division-I scholarship offers, but had turned down some Division II offers to sign with Itawamba Junior College in Mississippi.

After one week of practice and a solid performance in the Alabama/Mississippi summer all-star game, Gilberry figured out that he might not have to start his career in junior college after all.

In shoulder pads, the 6-2, 240-pound Gilberry almost looks like a defensive tackle. But his game is rushing the passer off the edge.

"They was callin' out the wazoo," Gilberry recalled. "As soon as that Monday came from nine in the morning to nine at night. Alabama, Auburn, Southern Miss, and a bunch of other schools were calling. It was exciting, I was like, 'Is this what (recruiting) feels like?' In a sense I didn't want the feeling, because there was so much pressure, I was like, 'Why cant I just go to junior college?'

"But I evaluated all the schools and Alabama looked to offer more playing time as a freshman."

Gilberry wasn't sure why he hadn't being looked at by the major schools, but said that his academics were definitely in order.

"Some (schools) say they didn't think I was eligible; some didn't even come and look," Gilberry said. "I believe after the All-Star game there's going to be a good group of eyes on Baldwin County. I always knew I was qualified. I turned down some Division II schools. Alabama gave me the chance and I took it."

Gilberry's quickness and pass rush ability caught the eye of recruiters, and it has caught the eye of his position coach, Paul Randolph, in fall camp.

"Wallace had a great game and after watching film he improved each game in his high school career and it culminated with the All-Star game," Randolph said. "It carried over to here. He comes here with an extremely high mindset. He wants to play as a freshman, he works hard, and has a great example in Nautyn McKay-Loescher on how to be a hard worker.

"Looking at him, he's a steal and a great sign for us."

Even Randolph isn't sure how the Tide was able to find a lineman with Gilberry's talent so late in the signing period. "I don't know," Randolph said. "But I know one thing for sure. I'm glad we got him."

Gilberry wants to play as a true freshman, and if he plays like his stats indicate after the first scrimmage, he could see some action. With starter Antwan Odom temporarily sidelined, Gilberry again took advantage of an opportunity to impress his coaches.

In the scrimmage, he had four tackles, including one for a loss, and two sacks. Bear in mind that even a simple touch of the quarterback by a defensive lineman blows the play dead in a scrimmage. But quick whistle or not, Gilberry looked good Monday.

Gilberry was frankly puzzled by the lack of attention during last year's recruiting, but he's grateful for the chance now to show he can play at Alabama.

While it isn't a dream fulfilled for Gilberry to play for the Tide, he is definitely happy with the opportunity he has. He knows he probably wouldn't have had it if not for the summer all-star game.

"Well, my dream come true would be making it to the (NFL)," Gilberry said. "I can say I have my foot in the door--and what a nice door it is. Alabama is one of the top programs in the country. I feel by them giving me the opportunity to come in and showcase my talent, it really is a privilege to me.

"If it weren't for the All-Star game I wouldn't be here, so I think it is (a dream come true)."

So while many critics don't like summer games because of the injuries that could happen, the players like them so they can showcase their talents to the rest of the viewing world before they go to college. Players such as Gilberry thrive off strong performances and sometimes build them into scholarship offers or offers to be an invited walk-on.

Gilberry feels like he has nothing to prove individually, but he does see his situation as a message. "I feel like I need to let them know that everybody deserves a chance," he said.

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