When Derek Gilbert was young, his family realized that he was not speaking as well as he should, and they had him tested. "We had him evaluated when he was 3 years old," said father and assistant coach Johnny Gilbert. "We didn't think he was communicating as well as he should, but the thing is, he could pick up the T.V. Guide and read it. He was diagnosed as Autistic, and the doctors told us he would never be able to leave the house unsupervised or have the "normal" life of a kid. I said 'bull', and put him into baseball and football right away, and he has thrived. He's in classes here at Stephenson where he gets some one on one attention, and he has made the honor roll and carries a 3.3 GPA. He's had perfect attendance in high school. He works a full time job in the summer, and he still never misses a summer workout."
Gilbert is an amazing story for what he has been able to accomplish off the field. The fact that he could still be playing football on the next level is remarkable, but it's a possibility. Stephenson's offensive line coach, Coach Ball, named Gilbert the team's first recipient of the Iron Man Award. "He earned it," said Coach Ball. "He never misses a workout. Even the ones at 5:30 in the morning. He's never missed a practice, and on top of that, he's one hell of a player. You can see the tentativeness on some players when they are lining up against an All-American. Not Gilbert, he's not intimidated at all. He goes at people 100% no matter who they are. The kid's a bull."
College football seems relatively meaningless when one takes into consideration all that Gilbert has accomplished to this point, but it's the next logical step for someone that has already beaten so many odds. With his wrestling background, Gilbert gets outstanding leverage on the offensive and defensive line. With his work ethic, he could easily add 40 pounds of pure muscle. He already benches 300+ pounds and squats 500+. Gilbert would need to pick a program that could afford him the one on one time he needs in the classroom, but there are plenty of schools like that in the nation.
"I'm going to Augusta this weekend to wrestle in the Georgia Games," said Gilbert. "I went to the Auburn passing camp with my team. I like a lot of schools. I like Georgia, Auburn, Miami, UAB, and Georgia Tech. Those are some of the teams that I like."
Whether Gilbert plays football at the next level is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Gilbert has already won. After overcoming the obstacles that have been put in front of him thus far though, one shouldn't bet against him making it to the next level.