Vital to the rebuilding job of the University of Puget Sound football program is getting players accustomed to winning.
No player on the Loggers’ roster defines that more than strong safety Matt Gilbert, who is the Northwest Conference’s leading tackler as a freshman at 8.8 tackles per game.
Gilbert played four seasons at Bellevue High School, and the Wolverines won the Class 3A state title every year. They were 20-0 in playoff games, including 16 wins at the state level.
During his four seasons, Bellevue lost three games. Two of them were to out-of-state powerhouses in Katy, Texas, and Grant High School in Van Nuys, Calif.
Rivals? The Wolverines had none in-state, which makes this week kind of special for Gilbert, who actually gets to experience that for the first time when the Loggers host Pacific Lutheran at Baker Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
UPS comes into the game at 0-6. That is double the losses Gilbert suffered in high school. He admitted the defeats “hurt.” But he also understands good programs are not built overnight, in a week – or, a good deal of the time, not even in three years.
“He was so well-coached at Bellevue, he knows it is a process,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “Whereas I thought (Gilbert’s reaction to losing) would be a concern as the losses mounted, he is all about making progress.”
Everyone is in agreement: UPS’s defense needs to tighten things up. Out of 238 programs in NCAA Division III, the Loggers rank 237th in points allowed (54.5 ppg) and yardage given up (561.3 ypg).
“That’s been hard,” Gilbert said. “Every week, we practice to correct things and stuff, and try and minimize those mistakes so they don’t happen the next game.
“You should never accept giving up a touchdown.”
The nucleus of Thomas’ young talent on defense comes from some of the most successful programs on the West Coast. Besides Gilbert, UPS has Chris Beaulaurier (Ferris) at linebacker and Morgan Leinwohl (Oaks Christian in California) on the defensive line.
“It is a hugely added bonus to get players who are used to winning,” Thomas said.
From Gilbert’s end, a few factors persuaded him to choose UPS over Linfield College and the University of Montana: One, he wanted to be close to home. Two, he wanted a college where he could play football and throw the javelin in track (second in 3A at the state meet last season). And third, his father, Craig, was a UPS basketball alumnus in the mid-1980s, and is now an attorney in Bellevue.
“Right now, all we can do is get better from where we are at,” said Gilbert, who is one of six 2012 Bellevue graduates playing college football.
“We are young. All we can do is improve. I just love playing football. Losses do hurt. But game day is fun.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org @ManyHatsMilles