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Mark Gilbert Is Back

And that’s a major asset for Duke

Duke v Northwestern
EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 08: Mark Gilbert #28 of the Duke Blue Devils intercepts a pass against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on September 8, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Two years. Two long years. Two years of surgeries, therapy, rehab, watching, waiting, hopefully learning. And oh, yes, throw in a pandemic and a quarantine.

Mark Gilbert took the field at Northwestern on September 8, 2018 as one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, a preseason All-American and a presumptive high pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Early in the game he landed awkwardly defending a pass, dislocating his hip.

He hasn’t played in a game since.

But that’s about to change. Mark Gilbert is all the way back and raring to go.

It certainly wasn’t easy.

“That was a mental battle I had throughout this entire process,” he told the media Tuesday.

“There was a little bit of doubt, thoughts of ‘was I ever going to play again?’ When I realized I was going to be again, the thought was ‘was I going to be the player I was before, was I going to reach the elite level I was playing at?’ As everything progressed, I started gaining my confidence back.”

Duke football isn’t a game for late sleepers. Rehab began around 8 A.M.

“I would have rehab for about an hour, hour-and-a-half. Then I would have a little break and come back in for another round of treatment. . . . We had a very amazing plan for me to return to play. I never felt rushed throughout the process. The training staff did a great job of making me feel comfortable. I was very trusting of them the entire process.”

How much did Gilbert miss football? He even missed practice.

“I missed being drained at practice. Those blood, sweat and tears on the practice field with your teammates. You don’t realize how much you miss that until it’s taken away from you.”

Duke got only three practices in this spring, enough for Gilbert to get his feet wet but not enough to erase all the doubts. But summer practice has gone well, with Gilbert noting improvement on a daily basis. He’s hitting and getting hit and getting up ready to do it all over again.

He also says we’ll see a new-and-improved Mark Gilbert.

“While sitting out I gained a lot more IQ in the game of football. I’m a smarter player. I also think I added a more physical aspect to my game.”

Fellow cornerback Josh Blackwell says his group feeds off of Gilbert’s energy and drive.

Gilbert accepts the compliment.

Gilbert is in his fifth year at Duke and embraces those added leadership responsibilities that go with talent and seniority.

“That’s an aspect of my game that’s improved greatly, being a better leader on the field but establishing a leadership role off the field as well, just being there for the guys, being as supportive as a I can. That means a lot to the guys.”

How good was pre-injury Mark Gilbert? He had six interceptions in 2017. Absent him the entire Duke team only had four interceptions in 2018, a number that increased to nine last season. He was a shutdown corner whose side of the field was known as “Gilbert Island,” as in nothing gets by without Mark Gilbert’s approval.

Will we see the return of Gilbert Island?

The Fayetteville native says that’s the plan.

“My goal is to return back to Gilbert Island. But I haven’t played in an actual game in two years, so of course I’m going to have to get used to it, get used to game speed. But once I do that Gilbert Island will definitely be present.”