Shortly before the start of the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s game at Ohio State, Nick Gilbo made his University at Buffalo debut and made quite an impression.
UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper dialed up a play that called for his linebackers to blitz off the edge. The Buckeyes knew it was coming so a lineman prepared to pick up the blitz. Gilbo, an inside linebacker, widened a little more. He got a good jump off the ball and made a beeline toward quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes’ Heisman Trophy candidate.
“I thought he was going to take off, but he stayed there for a second,” Gilbo said. “I swatted the ball out and took him to the ground. It’s too bad we couldn’t get the ball back. I still came around the corner pretty good. It was a good play.”
It was a good day for Gilbo, the former walk-on from Port Henry, who finished with four stops – three solos – a sack and a forced fumble against the nation’s No. 2 ranked team.
A small town guy, a former walk-on, making big-time plays for the Bulls? There’s more to come.
“I’m excited about Gilby,” UB senior linebacker Khalil Mack said. “He’s worked so hard and seeing him in the summer time and even in the spring, he’s grown so much. I see Coach Tepp’s impact on his play a lot because he’s so fundamentally sound it’s crazy. He plays fast and he’s strong at the point of attack.”
Of all the positions at UB, linebacker is one of the deepest and for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Gilbo to carve out a piece says a lot about his ability. He once again will back up junior Lee Skinner this Saturday when the Bulls (0-1) play at No. 24 Baylor (1-0) in Waco, Texas.
“It’s been a journey all the way,” Gilbo said. “I came from a small, small school and I just wanted to keep playing football. I didn’t expect to go to the D-I level, I just wanted to play. My grandfather played at Springfield College and he just loved watching me play football and I just wanted to keep playing.”
Gilbo was a 6-foot, 240-pound fullback and middle linebacker at Moriah Central as a senior. He had decent size and the heart to play on the FBS level, but Port Henry is a town of 1,194 people that rests near the border of Vermont. Recruiters noted the locale. Why bother?
“I don’t know, people said it was because of where I’m from,” Gilbo said. “I didn’t think about it. No one from my school really went to play college ball, there were a few D3 players, a couple of All-American D3 players, but I didn’t think twice about it, I just wanted to keep playing. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money at a D3 college paying 40-grand so I decided to go to Hudson Valley and play a little football there.”
Gilbo played linebacker for Hudson Valley Community College in 2011 before deciding to walk on at UB.
“I did pretty good and then I got the opportunity to come here and I’m like, ‘Oh, another opportunity to play football, and this place is a great academic school,’ ” Gilbo said. “That was basically my deciding factor to come here, the business program.”
Gilbo redshirted in 2012 while working on the scout and special teams.
“Just making my way on the team and making a name for myself,” Gilbo said. “That’s basically what made me better, just worked hard at everything. The scout team is a big, huge part of the game and they prepare you all week for what you see on Saturday. I didn’t realize it and then I realized it was a huge, huge part of the team.”
UB coach Jeff Quinn noticed, like he always seems to do.
There may be 85 scholarships but the roster limit is 105, leaving 20 more spots to become the Next Bull In. Last month during training camp Quinn called Gilbo to the side and offered him a scholarship that he gladly accepted. Gilbo is the 19th walk-on Quinn has placed on scholarship in three-plus seasons.
“Nick’s a competitor and I saw the first day he walked on our campus,” Quinn said. “You see it in meetings, you see it in his preparation, his drill work. He’s got a deep passion for the game, he’s a contact guy. Certainly his play and his performance has been recognized by Lou Tepper and that’s why he was given the opportunity to go in those situations to make those plays.”
According to Mack, this is only the beginning for Gilbo.
“He has a lot of potential and he can still get better,” Mack said. “By the time he’s a senior he’s going to be one of the best in the country.”