Trivia time…what do former Alabama safety (and current New Orleans Saint) Vinnie Sunseri and Western Carolina linebacker Christon Gill have in common? Give up? Both have the not-so-rare distinction of having intercepted a Logan Thomas pass during their collegiate careers.
While that may be the sole link between the two indeed, but Gill has proven in his senior year with the Catamounts that he is a force to be reckoned with in the heart of the WCU defense, leading the team in tackles and acting as field general for the Southern Conference team in 2014.
This week, he’ll face one of the stiffest challenges of the season against an Alabama running game that has built momentum as the offensive line has gelled. Will Alabama struggle against the Catamount defense? Not no…but hell no. All Gumping aside, despite the likely lop-sided outcome of Alabama’s game against the Catamounts this Saturday, Gill has used his senior season to accrue eye-popping stats in his final season, boosting his lightly-regarded draft prospects and giving himself a chance at playing on Sundays in the future.
Who in the heck is Criston Gill?
Gill (who wears #7) is the rock in the center of the WCU defense, a unit that fairs well enough against Southern Conference Competition, but will find itself outmanned against its upcoming Southeastern Conference foe. Through 10 starts this season, Gill has made a career-best 101 tackles (43 solo, 58 assists) with 11 tackles-for-loss. Gill has spent so much time in opposing backfields that he should be paying rent, counting three sacks among that number. The 6’, 225 pound inside linebacker is also adequate in pass coverage, tallying an interception and two passes-broken-up. The aggressive smaller-framed linebacker is also a bit of a ball-hawk, recovering two fumbles for the Catamounts in 2014.
The linebacker, who hails from Bridgeport, Conn., had a great season in 2013 as a junior, making 101 tackles (49 solo, 52 assists) with 2.5 tfls. Four times in 2013, Gill recorded double-digit tackle totals, averaging 8.4 tackles per game (good for sixth best in the Southern Conference). In the Catamounts 2013 loss to Virginia Tech, Gill snagged his first interception of his career against Thomas.
2012 was not a stellar year for Gill (he only recorded nine tackles despite playing in six games), especially in light of his 2011 campaign, in which he placed third on the team in tackles with 62.
A two-way athlete during his prep career at Bridgeport Central High School, Gill is extremely athletic for a linebacker. While his size and speed would likely qualify him as a safety on an SEC team (he is roughly the size of the aforementioned former Bama safety Sunseri), his aggressive style of play allows him to "play big," and his football instincts are keen.
What to expect from Gill against Alabama
While the Catamounts do field a veteran defense, Gill is easily the most explosive player on the unit. He contributes not only through leadership, but through his on-the-field performance, routinely leading the Catamounts in total tackles and making big plays when the opportunities arise.
Expect Alabama to wallop the Catamounts early with the running game, and for an undersized linebacker like Gill, this tactic will particularly effective. Take, for example, the fact that Gill weighs about 20 pounds less than Bama backs Jalston Fowler and Derrick Henry, and it’s easy to see that resistance for the Catamounts will be futile. Even against Alabama’s second and third string talent, which will likely see the field early and often in Saturday’s match-up, Gill will find himself on the receiving end of a running game that is just now hitting its stride for the Tide.
After all, veteran play and pluckiness will only carry one so far when the opponents are bigger, faster and stronger. Gill is not highly coveted as a NFL prospect at the present time, despite his impressive statistics. A good performance against Alabama could prove his ability to play against pro-caliber talent, but Alabama will offer too much of a challenge to allow the Catamount defense to show very much. Gill is indeed having the best season of his career, but if he does get any looks at the next level, it definitely won’t be at the linebacker position. That said, Gill doesn’t have the (relative) blazing speed preferred in NFL caliber safeties, so despite his best efforts, the 2015 NFL Draft will likely pass without his name being called.
(Click here to see film of Gill in action…)