Gibbons' dream finally thaws out with commitment to Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

For more than seven years, the memory that was most unpleasant to almost everyone around Dillan Gibbons in Notre Dame Stadium that blustery, blizzardy Saturday instead inspired him.

Taking in a 24-23 upset loss to 20-point underdog Syracuse on Senior Day in 2008, with nothing more to fend off the elements than a light jacket, Gibbons remembered the goosebumps more than the shivering and the abject disappointment of fellow ND fans, and made a promise to himself that he’d play football in that very facility someday.

Seventy-two hours removed from a two-day visit to ND, on Saturday the sophomore at Northside Christian High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., took a quantum stride toward keeping that promise, verbally committing to Irish head coach football Brian Kelly.

The 6-foot-5, 294-pound offensive lineman becomes the first member of the 2017 recruiting class, and spurned offers from Ohio State, among others, in doing so.

“This is a really good catch for Notre Dame,” CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “He’s got good size and he’s athletic. He was on my sophomore All-American team. He can pass block and he can run block. He can play guard or tackle. There’s a lot to like there.”

Gibbons could say the same about the Irish, starting with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, sort of a recurring theme when it comes to the talent haul Hiestand has helped amass over the past several years.

“He’s the best offensive line coach in all of college football,” Gibbons said via telephone from a restaurant in Tampa, where he was celebrating his grandpa Ken Maxcy’s 70th birthday with family.

“Whatever he says, I’m going to take to heart.”

His commitment was all about heart, all about the feeling of family, all about being an Irish Catholic kid, all about the warm welcome he received from ND’s current offensive linemen while in town, all about the impressive way Hiestand went about putting together a 6 a.m. position meeting that Gibbons attended.

One of the first congratulatory texts Saturday came from a member of the 2016 Irish football recruiting class, running back Tony Jones Jr.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pounder from the IMG Academy Bradenton, Fla., became the fourth commitment in that class on March 22. Jones, Gibbons and Gibbons’ older brother, Reilly, were all teammates at St. Petersburg Catholic High in 2013.

Dillan was a starter on that team as a freshman. Reilly Gibbons, a former four-star prospect, is now at the University of South Florida after initially committing to Stanford.

And there are more talented siblings. Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, in Tampa for the NCAA women’s hoops Final Four, may want to take a look at Dillan’s twin sister, Delanie, already one of the state’s most prolific rebounders as a 6-foot-1 high school sophomore.

Dillan plays hoops, too, and when asked if he was a standout in that sport, he took the humility route and responded, “well I can dunk.”

Gibbons, who in elementary school used to bring a first-aid kit to school to take care of his classmates, also has his own website ( and a 151 IQ score.

He can also eat, a lot and fast. The Saturday before his recent trip to Notre Dame, Gibbons entered a competitive Coney-eating contest sponsored by Skyline Chili in the Tampa area.

“I’m not sure why I signed up,” Gibbons said. “And when I got there, there were some grown men I had to take on. I had 12 minutes to eat as many as I could. I was able to eat 14½, which was good enough to win. It felt good, but it made our trip to the Midwest, well, long.”

The wait to get to suit up for Notre Dame likely seems long, too. Gibbons has two more years at Northside Christian, where former Purdue and Tampa Bay Buccaneer star fullback Mike Alstott is the head coach.

Gibbons’ dad, Shannon, a former wrestler who traveled the world chasing the Olympic dream in judo, coaches Northside’s offensive and defensive lines.

“I’m excited to get back to work for my high school,” Gibbons said. “And I can’t wait to live the dream I’ve had for so long to play for Notre Dame.”

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Dillan Gibbons, here posing in the Notre Dame football locker room, was Notre Dame's first verbal commit in the 2017 class. (Photo provided.)