The nearly 6-foot-6, 250-pounder can also carry the load. The night he caught 15 passes for 295 yards and five scores is a testament to that. He had to raise his play at receiver that game after an SEC-bound teammate left with an injury.
The 88 catches he made last year in a pass-happy offense will also reflect that. Now cross-reference that with the one-handed catches and the times he soars over two or three defenders on his highlight reel.
Gilbert can make a fifty-fifty ball look more like a 75-percent ball. This junior tight end hybrid has already drawn the Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce and the David Njoku parallels.
That might seem a tad premature for a high school junior. Well, until you see him.
He is already the same size as those guys and still has a season of high school ball to go.
The Marietta High two-way player is also very versatile. Values academics. Good team guy to be around. That’s why they are so many avenues to go down with his story.
Arik Gilbert said he can see himself making a decision by the start of his senior football season. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
What about his unique first name?
Everyone uses the common “Eric” with that. He is a nice enough dude not to bother to correct folks about that.
The Arik is really “A-rique” just going off pure phonetics.
The first name his parents gave him should be respected. That is one of the most personal things any individual will ever have in this life.
We will likely be hearing that “A-Rique” a lot in the seasons to come.
“His skill set is so vast and so versatile,” Marietta High coach Richard Morgan said. “He can play so many positions and do so many things. I just think he is one of those once-every-10-year types of athletes. He hasn’t played football for very long so I feel that his best football is still ahead for him.”
This decision will be a novel test for Kirby Smart and his band of black-belt recruiters. The Bulldogs have never signed the No. 1 player in Georgia under Smart’s watch.
Gilbert currently slots there for the 2020 cycle. IF he signs in December, it will mean UGA has brought in the top prospect in 11 different states under Smart’s leadership.
The nation’s No. 9 overall prospect (per the 247Sports composite) has an updated decision mindset that will go deep on summer research. He needs to study several schools that are in the mix for his decision.
Will Arik Gilbert wind up at UGA? That would be an unexpected recruiting feat for the Bulldogs and Kirby Smart. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
UGA will not be one of those. The Bulldogs were the first offer.
The program stands as the option he has very questions about. He said Smart told him he knew he was going to offer him the first time he laid eyes on him.
The Bulldogs did way back in July of 2016. He’s had an offer from Georgia longer than almost all the 2019 seniors have been practicing in Athens.
“They feel that I am a gamer changer type of player,” Gilbert said. “They want me to come so it would help the team go to the next level. That’s what they say.”
There are many recruiting morsels here, but the first read goes beyond the stars. The most interesting thing about Gilbert might be his passion for catching passes.
His skill set might very well attract more interest if he played a higher-profile position. Gilbert pays that no mind.
The heart wants what the heart wants.
Why Arik Gilbert does his own thing
Gilbert does not rank as a tight end on the highly-respected 247Sports Composite. He’s an athlete.
It is logical. He projects as a rare talent for several positions. The ones that come up frequently are the DE and OLB spots. Elite recruits with identifiable last names like Clowney and Nkemdiche also come up in the player parallel discussion here.
Gilbert views himself as a skill guy. Maybe just a rare 250-pound one that moves like he is only a few chicken wings north of 225.
Arik Gilbert in a Tennesse T-shirt? That makes sense given the daily recruiting reminders he hears from a very strong advocate for that program. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
“I have just got an offensive mindset,” Gilbert said. “I like to score. All my life I have been doing defense and offense just because I can do both. Like usually my team needed me to play defense. But I like offense. That’s where my heart is.”
There were three players taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft that he will look and move like. Those DE/OLB types went at No. 5, No. 14 and No. 22 overall, respectively.
Those pro contracts are larger than an approximate $10.5 million dollar deal.
Those were the standard 4-year rookie deals given to the last four TEs that were also chosen in the first round. There were no tight ends selected in the first round of the 2015 or 2016 drafts. The NFL has only called the names of seven tight ends in the first round this decade.
These things will not dissuade Gilbert.
“It is more fun for me when I have got the ball in my hand because I feel like I can change the game,” Gilbert said. “Like all those moments I get the ball in my hands is an opportunity to do something with it.”
The stubbornness he has to go against the grain here is a very likable trait.
Arik Gilbert caught 88 passes for 14 touchdowns as a junior in 2018. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
As a junior, he forced two fumbles and piled up 64 tackles on defense. That was while playing both ways on offense.
He might just be the first prep player in history to catch 88 passes and collect 64 tackles playing inside the box in a single season.
“With offense, I’ve got that extra like – I don’t know – a drive I guess,” Gilbert said. “It is a switch I can flip on offense. But [on] defense I can try my hardest but it is not going to look like it on offense.”
Morgan lined Gilbert up at receiver, tight end, slot receiver, fullback, defensive end and at both inside and outside linebacker last fall.
It was quite a load. Especially for a guy who just started playing organized football in the eighth grade.
Morgan respects what he sees Gilbert wanting to do here.
“That’s what he wants to do and I think he is going to be a better football player doing what he is happy doing,” Morgan said. “You never know. Kids change their mind. Something could change down the road but right now he’s really happy being a tight end, maybe a fullback and an H-back. That’s what he wants to do. I think he will continue to thrive at it down the road, too.”
The college shuffle with Arik Gilbert
The who-recruits-him-the-hardest-question derives a unique answer.
It is the Blue Devil quarterback. Harrison Bailey, the 4-star UT commit, recruits Gilbert and fellow Marietta High All-American B.J. Ojulari as hard as anyone on Rocky Top.
The 250-pound junior recently paired up a Michigan jacket with a Tennessee shirt and a set of UGA gloves at a 7-on-7 workout.
Gilbert said it was just the first things he saw clean on his way out the door.
Arik Gilbert will watch the see how the tight ends are used by each of his top schools this season. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
This does resemble the phase that former All-American recruit Jeremiah Holloman went through with his recruiting.
DawgNation will wait to see if this situation has a similar ending.
His outlook on the right fit has evolved.
“Originally I was looking just for like a family environment where I knew I felt comfortable at the school,” Gilbert said. “Now I’m starting to look more into the offenses and seeing who actually uses like a passing set with the tight end involved. They can like split him out. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Gilbert has a couple of schools in mind he likes but needs to check out others to navigate a plan for a summer top 5 release. He mentioned Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Tennessee as the schools he needs to learn more about.
Penn State and Tennessee (aside from Bailey) recruit him as hard as anyone. It could all come to a head in six months.
“Right now I’m trying to probably get out right before the season,” said Gilbert, who will enroll early next January.
He was vague about a lot of schools but did also share a clear thought on Clemson: “I just like coach [Dabo] Swinney,” Gilbert said. “What he does up there is special.”
Arik Gilbert was offered by UGA way back in July of 2016. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
The idea of what he is looking for is pretty clear.
“Definitely the coaching and the coaching style,” said Gilbert, who looks to visit Alabama this weekend. “The player [there] probably and then of course if I commit I can get some other players to come with me.”
Did we mention yet how hard Bailey is trying that on him right now?
“Playing with Harrison would be fun, though,” Gilbert said. “…Harrison is on me every day. He’s always like ‘GBO’ and ‘Come be a Vol’ just like that all day.”
Gilbert is not sure about what he wants to study. That’s another decision. He is even taking a look at sports broadcasting.
“Maybe like business or finance and then maybe psychology but I don’t really know,” he said.
Is a Clemson-Georgia battle up ahead?
There is the expectation that the Bulldogs will be around in his recruiting until the end.
That’s a nod to the in-state program’s recruiting prowess AND how well and how long they have recruited him. Ace assistant coach Dell McGee has now been recruiting him for seasons.
When Dell takes a shot like that, he usually does not miss.
Clemson will also be a factor. The Bulldogs and Tigers will go head-to-head a lot for the 2020 class.
The natural question was to ask him to compare the two programs.
Arik Gilbert is easily one of the nation’s top players in the class of 2020. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
“I mean they are somewhat similar but Clemson, I feel, passes a little bit more,” Gilbert said. “So I mean that’s the difference between them I guess.”
There’s an interesting point to that. Especially with that expectation of a preseason decision for Gilbert.
He did catch 88 passes last year. Those resulted in 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Isaac Nauta finished No. 22 nationally in receiving yards (430) among tight ends last season. That is not an over-the-top stat, but the default perception out there is that the Bulldogs don’t do enough at that position.
Nauta even wound up fifth among SEC tight ends in receiving yards in 2018.
If Georgia feeds its tight ends more, the recruits who play that position will be excited about that. But that doesn’t mesh with the timeline Gilbert brought up earlier.
What happens if the Bulldogs do? What happens if that is not the case?
“I am kind of debating that, too,” Gilbert said. “Like if it gets really close before the season I might have to just wait a little bit longer. Just to watch and see how everything pans out that year.”
The 2020 focus on recruiting continues
What will the final 5-star count for the Bulldogs look like when all is read and done for 2020? Can Gilbert join a group that projects to as many as six or seven for UGA in the next cycle?
We shall see. In the interim, here’s a roll call of the DawgNation updates this year with some very prominent 2020 targets.
Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed just as fast as former Georgia All-American LB Roquan Smith found the ball after the snap.