Nick Gilbo always dreamed of playing Division I college football against the best players in the country. That dream came true in a big way Aug. 31 when the former Moriah High School gridder and his University of Buffalo teammates faced Ohio State.
Nick Gilbo always dreamed of playing Division I college football against the best players in the country.
That dream came true in a big way Aug. 31 when the former Moriah High School gridder and his University of Buffalo teammates faced Ohio State — ranked second in the country — at the famed “Horseshoe,” the home field of the Buckeyes, in front of 100,000 fans and a national television audience.
The Bulls dropped a 40-20 decision in a game that was closer than most expected. While disappointed to lose, Gilbo has a life-time memory.
“I heard a lot of people say I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t fast enough,” Gilbo said. “I just wanted to play football. That’s my dream — to play football. Every time I step on the field I give it my all. I’ve worked hard and my dream is coming true.”
Gilbo made an impact in the Ohio State game, his first career Division I contest. The linebacker had four tackles, three unassisted, a sack for a 7-yard loss and he forced a Buckeye fumble.
In the second quarter Gilbo stuffed an Ohio State back on a 4th-and-1 play at midfield.
“I got up all excited,” he recalled. “I said to myself, “I belong here. I can play with these guys.’”
Gilbo wasn’t the only one excited.
“It didn’t seem real, watching my son on national television,” said Becki Gilbo, Nick’s mother. “Our living room was full of family and friends watching every play. It was great.”
While mom was unable to make the trek to Columbus, Ohio, for the game, Nick’s father, Pete, and brother, Nate, were on hand along with some friends.
“My husband and sons have been involved in football their entire lives,” Becki said. “For them to see Nick play at Ohio State was a great experience.”
Gilbo will get another chance to play top-flight competition Sept. 7 when Buffalo travel to Waco, Texas, to face No. 23 Baylor.
It’s believed Gilbo is the only area gridder to play Division I football.
Gilbo was an all-state linebacker and fullback at Moriah High School. He led the Vikings to the state Class D championship game as a sophomore and a junior. The club reached the state semifinals his senior season.
“There’s nothing like Moriah football,” Gilbo said. “That whole experience — Friday night under the lights at Linney Field; everyone in town coming out — is really special. There’s nothing like Moriah football.”
Playing for Coach Don Tesar at Moriah helped make Gilbo a Division I player, he said.
“Moriah definitely helped prepare me for this level of competition,” Gilbo said. “I really learned a lot playing in Moriah.”
Gilbo graduated from Moriah 2011. With no Division I scholarship offers he went to Hudson Valley Community College, where he played the 2011 season.
“It was a good experience,” Gilbo recalled. “I had to work hard for every rep. The competition was very good.”
When he got an offer to attend the University of Buffalo as a walk on (non-scholarship player), he jumped at the chance. He redshirted last season and played on the Bulls’ scout team — the reserves who mimic the opposition in practice.
“That was different, knowing I couldn’t play in any games,” Gilbo said. “But I worked hard to give the starting offense a good look at what was coming on Saturday. The scout team is important; those players are as important as anyone on the team.”
This past off season Gilbo trained relentlessly preparing for summer camp. When the Bulls began practice in August Gilbo got noticed.
“I worked my tail off the entire off season and all of summer camp,” he said. “I gave it everything I had, every drill, every play.”
Gilbo was still a walk on, paying his own way to school. That all changed when the Bulls closed their pre-season camp. Head Coach Jeff Quinn awarded Gilbo a scholarship.
“Nick is a competitor,” Quinn said. “You see it in his prep and drill work. He has a deep passion for the game. Nick has really made himself stick out with our coaching staff.”
The scholarship means a lot to Gilbo. It pays for his college education and certifies him as Division I player.
“It’s been a long journey, but I never gave up the dream of playing Division I football,” Gilbo said. “It really means a lot that my coaches recognized the work I’ve put in.”
Gilbo, at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, is sharing an inside linebacker spot with Lee Skinner, another Bull. They rotate between defensive series to keep fresh people on the field.
“It a good rotation, a good system,” he said. “Coach always wants fresh people on the field.”
Playing national college powers like Ohio State and Baylor is a long way from playing at Moriah.
“When we flew to Ohio State it was the first time I’d ever been on an airplane,” Gilbo said. “You really feel special, like you’re playing at the top level.
“To play at Ohio State was unbelievable,” he continued. “I’d never seen that many people and it was the loudest place I’ve ever been. You try to tune all that out when you’re on the field, you try to have tunnel vision, but you know it’s special. I was mind blowing; just crazy.”
Gilbo believes his Buffalo team has the potential to have a special season in 2013. The Bulls hope to compete for the Mid-American Conference championship and a trip to a bowl game.
“Our goal is to get to the MAC championship game and see what happens,” Gilbo said. “I think we can do that.”