The drama-filled Arik Gilbert roller coaster isn't coming to a halt anytime soon
Arik Gilbert’s first year of college essentially turned into a well-written primetime TV drama.
Think about it. The absurd high school highlights were like the overplayed TV show promo you memorized because it played twice an hour during a college football Saturday. The stories about him looking like “Pete Maravich on the football field” and the reports of his freakish camp exploits at LSU were like the critics reviewing the show with glowing marks ahead of the premiere date.
Then when the show finally hit the masses? It lived up to the hype.
It was only 8 episodes. I mean, um, 8 games. But Gilbert impressed.
The cumulative numbers might not have looked overwhelming (35 catches for 368 yards and 2 TDs). For those who actually watched the games and didn’t just scroll through their phones, however, Gilbert stood out. He had more games with 4-plus catches than the true freshman versions of Kyle Pitts, Hunter Henry and Evan Engram … combined. On a per game basis, Zach Miller in 2004 was the only 5-star tight end in the 21st century who put up better numbers as a true freshman than Gilbert.
The multi-dimensional storylines were like Gilbert’s multi-faceted game. The Season 1 love story was like Gilbert’s blocking. As in, it was a work in progress that showed flashes of long-term potential. The suspense scenes, though. My goodness. They were like Gilbert’s route-running. As in, it was a gripping, head-turning display of brilliance that kept you on the edge of your seat.
Arik Gilbert turned 19 years old today.
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) February 22, 2021
Amidst all of those interwoven storylines was an unpredictable cliffhanger of a Season 1 finale. Gilbert opted out before LSU’s final 2 games and subsequently entered the transfer portal, citing homesickness. Consider that the TV show equivalent of asking yourself the Season 1 finale question, “Wait a minute. Is the main character really about to die? After 1 season?!?”
Gilbert’s drama-filled first season took another sharp left turn Sunday when he announced on Twitter that 4 weeks after committing to Florida, he wouldn’t be committing after all and that he wouldn’t announce his next destination until he was enrolled at his new school.
Aaaaaaand we’re officially off the rails.
The roller coaster isn’t coming to a halt anytime soon. Even if Gilbert’s next destination isn’t revealed until he’s on campus in May (presumably), are we to believe these next 3 months will be totally quiet? Of course not. Gilbert is in the transfer portal. As much as the kid who turned 19 years old last week would probably love to have a quiet, no-nonsense college career, that ship has sailed. You don’t announce you’re attending and then leaving 2 premier SEC programs and then just ride off into the sunset.
This is like a critically acclaimed TV show dominating CBS ratings for a full year, and then the studio announces that the show is leaving for NBC … only to announce a month later that it’s still looking for a new network.
(Yes, Georgia fans. In this scenario, you get to be FOX. You’re sitting in the corner just waiting to cash in. UCF fans? You can be Amazon Prime.)
Fair or not, Gilbert is now going to dominate the college football world like Ben Affleck dominates the supermarket tabloids. Obviously, their personal situations are wildly different, but on a surface level, the similarities are evident.
When you burst onto the scene like that, we as consumers become locked in to your every move. Affleck went from starring in movies like “Good Will Hunting” and “Armageddon” in his mid-20s to dating celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Lopez. Of course, his every move was going to be captured by the paparazzi. Gilbert went from becoming a target machine as a 5-star true freshman tight end to devastating 2 of the sport’s most rabid fan bases. Of course, his every Twitter follow is going to be dissected by college football fans.
Whatever is going on with Gilbert behind closed doors is his business. But so far, everything he’s done suggests that he’s worthy of our undivided attention.
Part of the reason this situation reached this level is, admittedly, at the fault of us as consumers. Gilbert’s announcement in January that he was committing to Florida was treated as a done deal. It made perfect sense that he’d want to play in Dan Mullen’s offense and get coached by Tim Brewster, who just helped Pitts become a college football unicorn. Gilbert entered the transfer portal, considered his options and picked the one he felt fit him best. Easy enough.
What a select few realized was that with Gilbert not set to enroll at Florida until the summer, it was still a fluid situation. He was more like a recruit who committed than an enrolled student. Hence, why Gilbert said he won’t announce his next destination until he’s on campus. Kudos to a decorated 19-year-old kid if he can break his own news if and when that time comes. Something tells me that’ll be highly coveted information capable of melting down message boards.
Sure, higher-rated recruits have transferred from SEC programs. Justin Fields, Shea Patterson, Jacob Eason, Byron Cowart and Bryce Brown, to name a few. We’ve also seen a few players like Tate Martell leave multiple traditional powerhouse programs.
But even with all we’ve seen in the wild world of recruiting and transferring in 21st-century college football, Gilbert’s situation feels unique.
Never do 5-star recruits shine as true freshmen, only to leave the program they signed with that same season … and then commit to and de-commit from a rival program shortly thereafter. All of those things played out over the course of the last 5 months. What’s in store for the next 5 months? Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps the better question is what’s in store for the next 5 years for Gilbert? Will he commit to his third SEC school become an All-American and eventually a first-round pick? That’s probably the least surprising path he could take, if we’re being honest. That scenario would still result in more than 1/5 of the SEC’s teams representing him at one point, which wouldn’t exactly lessen his ever-polarizing profile.
Any time Gilbert so much as picks up a first down in a primetime game, we’re going to hear the broadcast team tell some sort of variation of his unique story. The irony, of course, is that by the time he takes the field next, it’ll be common knowledge for even the casual college football fan.
Maybe this will yield something like that 2013 LSU-Georgia classic, wherein LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger got a massive, College GameDay-worthy showdown with the Georgia team he was booted from. Granted, it’s different when it’s a former blue-chip quarterback facing his ex-team compared to a tight end.
But nothing about Gilbert’s path so far suggests that he’ll be treated like another talented tight end. That’s in the media, on opposing scouting reports and perhaps even at the next level.
My advice? Grab some popcorn, sit back, relax and don’t miss a second of Season 2.