Friday Night Hero: Carson's Dontae Gilbert
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Rowan County’s best defensive back might be the ordinary-looking kid wearing the funky wristband and the bright purple No. 5 jersey at Carson’s Tuesday afternoon practice.
Carson coach Mark Woody bought those blinding purple jerseys for $1 each. Generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Gilbert looks like a guy Woody picked up at a cornerbacks crazy clearance for a buck, but he wouldn’t take $1 million for him.
Well, maybe he’d take the million, but he does like Gilbert a lot.
“He does so many things for us,” Woody said. “He’s doing a great job at cornerback. He returns punts. He’s our backup QB. You could see him at tailback some before the season is over.”
His junior year, the elusive Gilbert ran back interceptions for touchdowns against North Rowan and Robinson and also picked off a pass against West Rowan.
But the first time many fans noticed him was after Carson quarterback Zack Gragg suffered a knee injury in the South Rowan game in late October.
Gilbert happened to be the emergency quarterback. Pressed into duty, he did enough good things that the Cougars rallied from a 16-0 deficit to win 53-16.
The following week, as Gragg healed, Gilbert was semi-sensational against West Iredell, throwing for 255 yards and two TDs in a wild 35-28 victory.
It appeared that Woody had accidentally discovered his quarterback for the post-Gragg era, but the emergence of sophomore Austin McNeill has allowed the Cougars to keep Gilbert on defense this season.
“Sure, we were thinking in the preseason Gilbert would be our quarterback,” Woody said. “But the more we watched our young guy (McNeill), the more we felt like we could keep Dontae on the other side. We always want to two-platoon, and, hey, it’s worked out.”
Gilbert, a friendly, upbeat guy is fine with either job.
“They can put me wherever they need me, wherever it benefits the team the most,” he said.
There’s more potential glory at quarterback, but Gilbert has impacted games as much as a cornerback possibly can.
Carson had a postponement with Hickory Ridge, so it has only played four games, but Gilbert already owns three picks. He victimized North Rowan and Robinson. His third one came in Friday’s rugged 20-7 NPC opener against East Rowan.
Gilbert has played only a few snaps on offense, but the Cougars do have a “Wildcat” package for him. In his only passing attempt so far this year, he accepted a shotgun snap against Robinson and fired a 44-yard TD pass to tight end Greg Tonnesen. It looked for a while like that play might decide the game in the Cougars’ favor.
“How he does what he does is a good question,” Woody said with a grin. “He doesn’t look unusual physically, but he does have an uncanny confidence. He thinks he can get it done, anytime and anywhere against anyone. And the mind can be a powerful thing.”
Asked about the accuracy of his coach’s scouting report,” Gilbert nodded.
“All I try to do is play as hard as I can and as smart as I can,” he said. “I play every game like I don’t ever want to get beat.”
Gilbert broke his foot twice as a sophomore — once in football, once in basketball. He’s come a long way.