Saturday was a sight for sore eyes for a lot of Marietta football fans, and likely a few Georgia fans, too.

Arik Gilbert was back on the football field.

It’s been a long couple of years for the former five-star prospect.

After a promising start at LSU, where he caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns and earned freshman all-SEC honors, he left the team with two games left in the regular season. Citing homesickness, the tight end came back to Georgia and began looking for a new place to play.

After briefly committing to Florida, Gilbert changed his mind and signed with Georgia instead.

When Gilbert joined the Bulldogs, it was expected he would move to wide receiver, but during the first week of fall practice, he left the team for personal reasons. When he came back, there was a lot more of him than expected. Once listed at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, Gilbert’s weight reportedly ballooned to more than 300 pounds when he returned to the team in January.

However, from that point on, it appears as if the young man has begun to figure things out.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was happy with the way Gilbert tackled spring practice. Because of the increased weight, he was shifted back to tight end. It appears to have been the right decision, because he is beginning to resemble the player that demolished Class AAAAAAA defenses when he caught 101 passes for 1,860 yards and 14 touchdowns while helping lead Marietta to the 2019 state championship.

“Yeah, Arik is a really tough, physical player that’s done a good job,” Smart said after Saturday’s G-Day game at Sanford Stadium. “I’m more proud of the practices he had leading up to today than today. Today was a little bit icing on the cake. He got some good breaks. He had a ball that I think Stetson (Bennett) was throwing away that he ended up making a play on.”

During the G-Day game, Gilbert filled in for starter Brock Bowers (shoulder) and Darnell Washington (ankle), who both missed spring practice with injuries. Playing with the first team, Gilbert caught three passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns. He also forced two pass interference penalties in the red zone.

Gilbert got the Black team on the board first when he caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Bennett in the first quarter. Coming across the middle, Gilbert went up between two defenders, caught the ball at its highest point, took a big shot and came down with the ball securely in both hands.

It showed how Gilbert could be a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.

His second touchdown catch was the play Smart referenced as Bennett potentially throwing the ball away. Working in the back of the end zone against starting cornerback William Poole, Gilbert used his superior size and length to make a diving catch to put the Black team back in front in the third quarter.

Gilbert’s final play of the day may have been his biggest. In the final moments, he lined up in the slot, gained separation, came across the middle and caught a 27-yard pass that set up the game-winning field goal as the Black team defeated the Red team 26-23.

“He has come on this spring,” Bennett said. “First of all, he’s just a freak. Second, he knows football. He knows space. Not just the two touchdown passes, but the one in the 2-minute drill, right before we kicked to field goal to win the game. He made some great catches. I’m kind of getting that trust with him and getting to know where he is going to be on the field.”

Gilbert definitely showed flashes Saturday, and it is sure to have Georgia fans dreaming of what he could do in concert with Bowers and Washington. However, there are a lot of areas where Smart said the redshirt sophomore still needs to get better.

One is his weight. Gilbert, reportedly played Saturday at 265, and Smart wants him back around 240.

Another, Smart doesn’t want to see his quarterbacks or running backs injured.

“There were two missed assignments where he didn’t block a guy that in the run game could kill us,” Smart said. “We get tackles for loss and we end up not blocking a guy. He didn’t really have those kind of plays during the spring, but his conditioning level has got to continue to improve. He lost a lot of weight, but just what he’s been through and overcome is such a great story.

“But he’s not where he needs to be. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s got to continue to grow, to get in shape, to change his body, and he can get an opportunity to help us. With the two other guys we’ve got coming back, it makes it a luxury of those guys being able to make us a special football team.”

All in all, Gilbert is showing he’s finally back on the right track. He’s earning the trust of his coach, his quarterback and his teammates. He has all the talent in the world, and it’s fun to see him using it again.

John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and the former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @cobbfballfri or

@jbednarowski.

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