UNC Battling for Gilbert

Zach Gilbert, a 2016 defensive end, thought he had his recruitment figured out. But a new offer has scrambled a once organized favorite schools list.

“I do like North Carolina a lot,” Gilbert said. “They’re sitting at the top of my list. But ever since I got this offer from Pittsburgh, it kind of jumbled my top three/top five a little bit. So I’m not really exact anymore.”

Gilbert, a 6-foot, 242-pounder, stars at Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg, but he’s originally from Pittsburgh. Furthermore, his father, Sean, was an All-American defensive tackle for the Panthers in 1991. Gilbert has also had a couple of cousins who played for Pitt, and a third, Jordan Whitehead, who recently committed to the school.

“I have a really big connection with Pittsburgh,” Gilbert said. “I really do have a legacy with that school.

“It factors a little bit, because I know Pittsburgh produces athletes. No matter how off the map Pittsburgh may seem, they put athletes in the [National Football] League and that’s where I want to go.

“But the same with Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill puts athletes in the League, too.”

Gilbert can say that Florida, UNC, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee comprise his four finalists.

“I can’t really give you an order,” Gilbert said. “At first it was Chapel Hill, Tennessee, and Florida [in that order] and it was simple. But then Pittsburgh came in and that kind of mixed things up a little bit.”

But, Gilbert conceded that UNC and Pittsburgh are 1A and 1B.

“Both of them are tied right now for the lead,” Gilbert said. “Even though Pittsburgh is eight hours away and Chapel Hill is about two and a half.”

Gilbert said that proximity to Charlotte might play a role in his recruitment. He prefers to play closer to his parents. But at the same time, he has plenty of extended family in the Pittsburgh area.

A couple of weekends back, Gilbert visited UNC for the game against Virginia Tech. It was his mother’s first game in Kenan Stadium. She had previously accompanied Gilbert to a camp in Chapel Hill this past summer.

“She enjoyed it a lot,” Gilbert said. “She ultimately likes the school – both of my parents like the school. My mom likes how it’s set up and how they’re going to teach from a football standpoint to be a man to what I’ll have to do in the classroom.

“She had a conversation with Coach [Larry] Fedora and Coach [Gunter] Brewer [this past summer] and she likes the coaching staff and how straightforward they were. She didn’t feel like they were trying to sell her – she liked how reasonable and real they were with her.”

During his most recent stay, Gilbert spoke briefly with Brewer and Keith Gilmore, UNC’s defensive line coach. Their message: we need defensive help.

“Their big message was ‘We want you to graduate early, get here early, and help us win some ball games,’” Gilbert said. “I noticed that when I was watching them play, I said, ‘I could be a factor. I could really help,’ because there are some things that my dad taught me that some of these college players aren’t doing.”

In fairness to those college players, Gilbert’s father, Sean, played 12 seasons in the NFL, including two that ended in Pro Bowl selections.

Gilbert himself attended two UNC home games last season.

“When I went for the Virginia Tech game, I noticed a lot more dedication from the fans,” Gilbert said. “I noticed a lot more people in the stands overall. The year before I went to the ECU game and it was a small crowd – just enough to pack up the stadium. But this year, [the crowd] has gotten bigger. I’m assuming that’s because they have a lot more star athletes come in – and there’s more that are coming in.”

South Carolina is the only other school that Gilbert has visited for a game. He visited Columbia when it hosted Missouri the weekend before heading to Chapel Hill.

Gilbert doesn’t have any future recruiting trips plans, but hopes to attend a game at East Carolina by the end of the season.

With Gilbert playing both ways, South Meck is 6-1. On the season, he has collected eight sacks, 38 tackles, a forced fumble, and six touchdowns. Five of his TDs were rushing from his running back position, while the other came on a fumble recovery return.

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