Gilbert Matured into Starting Role

Marcus Gilbert faced a decision. He would give up playing football at Florida or get serious about it. There were no other options posed from head coach Urban Meyer after the offensive tackle's freshman season. Buy in or leave.

"He was a guy that had one foot in, one foot out for about two years," Urban Meyer said. "We were getting ready to throw his butt out because he didn't buy into the academics, the workload or the expectations."

Marcus Gilbert didn't brush it off. He knew there was improvement to be made. He wasn't living up to the coaching staff's expectations in the classroom, on the practice field or in his personal time.

"When you're a freshman… I was immature," Gilbert said. "I didn't really care about football too much. I cared about the off the field partying."

Once he decided to buy in to the program, Gilbert saw a long way up the depth chart. He saw players younger than him progressing and earning playing time. If he were going to see playing time, he would be forced to refocus.

Two of the younger players that caught his eye were the Pouncey twins. They both saw playing time as freshmen, with Maurkice even starting at right guard. Gilbert knew that the coaches would play the best players. The challenge came in taking the practice field with the same intensity every day.

"When they came in there really hungry, I was just taking it as another day and getting through practice," Gilbert said. "But when the Pounceys came in, they wanted to get better every day. You could see it in them. They wanted to be great players as soon as they stepped on the field. That inspired me. They were below me, and they surpassed me. Why can't I do the same thing? So I came out and made my name as a great player."

Gilbert will be able to make a name for himself at the position he is most comfortable. He played left tackle during the first two games of the season because of an injury to Xavier Nixon. With Nixon now healthy, Gilbert will slide back to right tackle, the position he solidified as his own last season.

"With Xavier back, it brings a lot of stability to the offensive line," Gilbert said. "It will put everybody back in their regular positions. We needed another natural tackle, and having Hurt back at guard will be a great presence."

Even though he is still playing tackle, there is an adjustment going from the left to right side. Coach Addazio mentioned that the switch to left tackle went smoothly for Gilbert, so they expect it to be an easy switch back.

"I got more comfortable at left since I was playing there for a few weeks, but now going back to my stomping grounds, I think I'll handle it pretty good," Gilbert said.

Gilbert will lead a veteran offensive line into Knoxville this weekend. Crowd noise will be an issue, especially with a new quarterback, but the offensive line has worked on silent cadence all week in practice.

The senior has seen plenty of road games in his career, and there is something special about watching in the fourth quarter as the fans file out of the stadium. It's a feeling Gilbert wants to experience in Neyland Stadium one more time.

"Every time you travel to a hostile environment, you always want the fans to talk a lot of crap and then at the end of the game, you see them emptying the stadium," Gilbert said. "That's cool to see. We're looking forward to hopefully seeing the same thing."
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