Jimmie Gilbert remembers quite vividly the situation when he arrived at the University of Colorado. As devoted as he was to the football program he'd just joined, they mostly are unpleasant memories.
Back then, there were the starters for the Buffaloes' football team, and then there was everyone else. The idea that multiple players might push for one starting job was delusional.
Four years later, the Buffs are a vastly different team. And despite sack totals that seem to grow a little more gaudy each week, Gilbert understands his time on the field is a privilege that must be earned.
After another havoc-wrecking performance against Arizona State, Gilbert and the hard-hitting CU defense will take their shot at Stanford on the road Saturday in a Pac-12 Conference showdown. It could be a favorable matchup for Gilbert and his fellow CU pass rushers, who have posted the third-best sack total in the Pac-12 with 19. Stanford is tied for the most sacks allowed in the league with 19.
As he steadily climbs the list of the Buffs' all-time sack leaders, Gilbert is quick to credit a culture that has evolved within the upstart CU program where the senior pass-rushing specialist always feels like he has to earn his keep.
"The guys that are behind me push me every day to be better, because if I don't they're going to take my spot, they're going to take my place, they're going to take my reps," Gilbert said. "By having guys behind you that will push you to make you better, having guys go against you that will sharpen you as you sharpen them, that's what we have and what I have to give credit to."
Gilbert's performance against Arizona State was the sort of all-around effort quickly growing commonplace for the 6-foot-5 outside linebacker, finishing with two sacks, a forced fumble, and four third-down tackles. The forced fumble was Gilbert's fifth of the season, good for the top total in the nation, and his two sacks gave Gilbert a team-best six on the season and 15.5 in his career.
Gilbert has a decent shot at posting the 11th season with double-digit sacks in the CU program's history. His 15.5 career sacks ranks 13th in team history.
"He understands angles, and he's really working hard at improving," said CU defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat, himself the owner of 102.5 sacks in a decorated 15-year NFL career. "He sees how people are going to attack him and understands leverage and what he needs to do to be successful.
"He keeps on getting better. He's watching film. He's looking at what the offensive linemen are doing, and that's what good pass rushers do. They know how people are going to try and block them. He'll continue to improve because he's working so hard at it."
The son of two former college basketball players, Gilbert grew up in the shadows of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Yet Gilbert always had a drive to forge his own path and credits the ongoing mentoring he has received from Jeffcoat as a critical part of his development.
"Every morning during the special teams meetings, I'm in his room going over film and going over stuff," Gilbert said. "He tells me triggers with what the offensive tendencies are. He gives me notes and scripts and things like that to help guide me in my preparation for the game. When it comes to pass rushing, he's one of the best I've ever seen. It all comes full circle."