People normally relegate the aughts to the memory hole when they think of Alabama football. But, it does a disservice to focus only on the good times. There were a lot of unheralded players that suited up for the Tide and not only played hard, but played well. We covered one such guy already, the explosive, always-fun Shaud Williams. Today we look at the monstrous production that versatile, athletic Wallace Gilberry brought to the Tide, becoming one of the most impressive defenders in recent Alabama history.
Going into the 2003 season, already on probation, the Tide was in a position where it could not miss on any player. In addition to its reduced scholarships, Alabama was rotating an unheralded trio of three-star players into the NFL (Kenny King, Jarret Johnson, Kindal Moorehead.) The Tide needed help along the defensive line, and it particularly needed a difference-maker at defensive end.
Wallace Gilberry would be that difference-maker.
It’s hard to believe now, in this age of 24/7 recruiting coverage and the big money that is the recruiting business, that Gilberry’s recruitment played out as it did. And by “played out” we mean, he received zero division one offers. All 130 schools overlooked him.
On paper, his numbers cry out: He was 6’3” and a lithe 235 pounds at defensive end. He had the soft hands, lateral quickness and athleticism to play linebacker and tight end as well. His measurables were plainly there as a strong, but not overpowering, defender: he was 4.60 in the 40, benched 275 pound reps, squatted 530, and deadlifted 525.
He wasn’t a purely tape measure player though: his athleticism translated to production. As a senior in high school, Gilberry had 77 tackles (61 solo!), 7 sacks, 7 TFL, 6 PBUs, 2 FF, 2 FR. And he had a high motor, wanting to dominate at every play.
Despite the impressive credentials, Gilberry had not earned a single D1 scholarship offer as of NSD. He had to enroll at nearby Itawamba Junior College. It was not until he dominated in the annual Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game that offers arrived, and those were local ones: Southern Miss, Auburn, Alabama.
Fortunately for Alabama, as he said, “I’m rollin’ with the Tide.”
Despite being a late enrollee, Gilberry stepped on to campus and demanded to be seen. He pressed for immediate early playing time after dominating in the Tide’s fall scrimmages. While he did eventually redshirt in 2003, he stepped into the rest of his career ready like that red-nosed pit bull (which are actually quite friendly and generally docile dogs, to the point they were called “the nanny dog” for a century. But, I digress.)
While not every disruptive defender at Alabama can be Derrick Thomas, none had a career approaching the legendary Thomas until Wallace Gilberry. In nearly every significant measure of getting into the backfield and blowing up plays, Wallace takes a back seat only to DT.
Tackles for loss in a game? Thomas had 7, Gilberry has 6
Tackles for loss in a season? Thomas had 39, Gilberry has 27
Tackles for loss in a career? Thomas had 68, Gilberry has 61*
At Alabama he played 50 games, and tallied 188 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries and 38 quarterback hurries. To that, add his career 21.5 sacks, good for 6th all-time at Alabama.
Wallace Gilberry never received the accolades he should have, primarily because of the poor performance of the Shula teams. He was named to the All-SEC team in 2007, but did not recieve any other individual or team awards.
Even after his college production, he was overlooked; he was not selected by the NFL and had to earn his career as an undrafted free agent.
Being passed over, despite quiet excellence, has been a theme throughout Gilberry’s career. It is fitting then that he has had the last laugh. As of this writing, Gilberry has enjoyed a productive 10-year NFL career, registering 34 sacks, 191 tackles, 7 FF, 6 FR and has scored a touchdown. Long after can’t-miss players have busted, after All-Americans have quietly exited the game, after those players that topped him at awards ceremonies have hung up the cleats, it is Gilberry that is still getting paid.
When we think of Alabama greats, his name should be at the top of the list...but somehow we always overlook it.
61 days ‘til Alabama football.
Gilberry only had 60.5 tackles for loss, not 61. I rounded up instead of down because he has earned some respect.