With a bright smile on his face, Garrett Gilbert recently jogged off Pettis Field and greeted reporters following another grueling but yet revitalizing practice.
"I'm just glad to have fresh start," he says.
In his fifth year on the Hilltop, SMU head coach June Jones is ready to take this team to the next level after three straight bowl game appearances, and he finally has the quarterback. Gilbert was named the starter before even throwing a pass at SMU but is confident he can lead the Mustangs to the promise land.
A five-star recruit, Gilbert was considered by many as the top quarterback in the nation coming out of Austin Lake Travis after breaking the state high school record with 4,851 passing yards.
Naturally, Gilbert committed to play for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns in hopes of becoming the next Colt McCoy, who started for four years and set numerous school records. But things didn't go exactly according plan. After becoming the full-time starter as a sophomore in 2010, Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and Texas suffered its first losing season since 1997.
"It was a tough thing to go through, but I believe it only made me stronger," Gilbert said. "I enjoyed my time at Texas and have no regrets."
Tough can't even begin to describe all the hatred Gilbert experienced. Fans constantly bashed him all over Internet message boards and proclaimed him to be nothing more than a big bust that had failed to live up to the hype.
To make matters worse, Gilbert was demoted the following year and was required to have season ending shoulder surgery. It was then when he decided it was time for a change. Gilbert informed Texas of his intention to transfer and was immediately contacted by SMU head coach June Jones.
Impressed with his conversation and desire for a change of scenery, Gilbert committed immediately.
"Garrett is an extremely smart and humble young man," Jones said. "We brought him here because we know he can do something special. He has a chip on his shoulder and is ready to prove he can still play."
But getting to SMU was certainly no dream scenario. Before arriving on the Hilltop, Gilbert was forced to take a brutal 27 hours during his final semester at Texas in order to graduate with a bachelor's degree in sports management and be immediately eligible at SMU.
"It was pretty crazy. In October, Coach Jones asked me if there was anyway I could graduate, and I said no way, not a chance," Gilbert said. "I sent him my transcripts, and I found out there was a chance. I just had to take 27 hours, which I thought was nearly impossible. I told myself if you put your mind to it, you can do anything."
By taking six traditional and three online classes, Gilbert was able to accomplish his goal and will now pursue a Masters degree in liberal arts at SMU but will have to balance graduate school and football.
This summer, Gilbert was in quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison's office often frequently along with Jones as he scrambled to learn his new offense in limited time.
"Getting to know Coach Morrison over the last few months has been great," Gilbert said. "He has a wealth of knowledge and being able to learn from him has been great. I'm looking forward to learning more from him each and every day.
"Coach Jones is very hands on, and I like that. Obviously, this is his offense so he knows it very well. He does a great job teaching it. He's able to talk to everyone so it does nothing but help."
Besides studying up on all the schemes of the famous Run N' Shoot, Gilbert was on the practice field every day and was getting coached up by none other than his competition.
"I felt it was my duty to help him pick up the offense if it was the best thing for our team," said SMU backup quarterback Conner Preston. "Garrett is a really nice guy and a fast learner. I think I can also learn a lot of things from him, and he really brings a lot to this team."
During his first official practice as an SMU Mustang in early August, Gilbert wowed everyone in attendance including his own teammates as he showcased his rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound signal caller looked extremely poised in the pocket and quickly established himself as the new leader.
"Garrett has to be the best quarterback I've ever played with," said SMU wide receiver Jeremy Johnson. "He has already built chemistry with us and will do great things for us."
In his first two games, Gilbert has passed for 491 yards and three touchdowns. The Mustangs split both of those contests and are currently 1-1 overall. If Gilbert can continue to shake off rust, SMU is poised for a historic season.
"SMU is a great fit for the next two years that I have left to play," Gilbert said. "I really like the program and where we're heading as a team. I think we'll be able to find success and have some fun along the way.
"There is no pressure even though we haven't exactly started off exactly how I envisioned. I just need to keep working and eventually, it will all come together."
New SMU QB excited about change, opportunity
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