Midway through his sophomore year, Arik Gilbert had an epiphany.
He realized that will all the talent he had, that alone would not get him to where he wanted to be. He realized he needed to go to work. From that point on, he wasn’t just a problem for defenses. He became a nightmare.
“When that switch flipped,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said, “he said, ‘I want to be the best football player in the country.’”
Gilbert accomplished that this season and was named the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year. He finished the season with 101 receptions for 1,760 yards and 14 touchdowns and for his efforts, he is the Marietta Daily Journal Offensive Player of the Year.
“My sophomore year I matured a lot,” he said. “Both physically and mentally. It was when the feel of the high school game slowed down.”
Morgan said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end really stepped to the forefront during his junior season when then leading receiver Ramel Keyton went down with an injury. Gilbert became the No. 1 receiver and never looked back.
It led to a game against North Paulding that rewrote all the Marietta single-game receiving marks. He had 290 yards receiving with five touchdowns. Gilbert said that game was eye-opening for him. It was then he realized he could really get to where he wanted to. He knew he was better than anybody else on the field.
“He came into this season on a mission,” Morgan said. “But he also knows he’s not a finished product.”
Morgan added that in all his years of coaching, he has not seen a player with the skill set that Gilbert has.
“Size wise, no,” Morgan said. “I coached against Percy Harvin and he was special, but the combination of size and speed, I’ve never seen anyone like Arik.”
Marietta defensive end B.J. Ojulari said he and Gilbert had to face off against each other in practice and he continues to see his future LSU teammate continue to grow and improve.”
“His work ethic is great,” Ojulari said. “It really sets him apart.”
Gilbert may have saved the two best games of his senior season for last. He caught nine passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns against Parkview to help send Marietta to its first state championship game in 52 years. He followed that with an 11 catch, 146-yard performance that led the Blue Devils to a 17-9 win over Lowndes to win the Class AAAAAAA title.
Gilbert will head to the Tigers as the top-rated tight end in the history of Rivals.com’s player rankings, but a part of him will always be in Marietta. He also said he is going to miss everyone that joined him on his high school journey.
“I’m going to miss playing with all my brothers,” Gilbert said. “I’ll miss all of them and I’ll miss being with them on Friday nights.”