Out on an island: Anthony Gildon comes into his own at cornerback
He stands in a defensive crouch, just beyond the 50-yard line in LSU territory at Cowboys Stadium. A minute and twenty-six seconds remain in the first quarter of Oregon’s season-opener, the teams deadlocked at three points apiece. It’s second and long after a false start penalty, and the Tigers are lined up in an I formation. Their game plan has been conservative so far, but this could be a time for fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Lee to be [email protected]@http://www.lsusports.net/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=5200&[email protected]@
And so Gildon is positioned accordingly, granting a 10-yard cushion between himself and receiver Kadron Boone. If Boone is going to beat the senior cornerback, it sure as hell isn’t going to be from [email protected]@http://www.lsusports.net/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=5200&[email protected]@
The play clock runs all the way down to five before Lee calls for the snap and drops back into the pocket. Boone takes off, faking right before heading into a go route and looking to beat Gildon for a big gain. They run side by side as Lee glances to his left and quickly lofts the ball into the air.
Gildon and Boone are briefly lost on the ESPN cameras, but they come careening back into the picture as the ball’s arc trends downward. Lee has placed the ball on Boone’s back shoulder, forcing him to turn to his right and leap into the air. Gildon, who has trailed Boone step for step, nudges to the inside and leaps, too, timing his jump perfectly and batting the ball away just as it reaches the receiver’s hands.
They both hit the ground, but Gildon bounces right back up and emphatically waves his arms horizontally.
Instead of a 30-yard gain and a first down, LSU is faced with a third-and-12 situation. On the very next play, the Tigers botch a snap, and Oregon recovers.
Gildon comes off the field with his head held high, his ecstatic teammates right alongside him.
Oregon may have fallen short against LSU in Dallas two weeks ago, but it certainly wasn’t Gildon’s fault. The Simi Valley, Calif., native racked up eight tackles and three pass breakups, including the one against Boone that led to a turnover. Watching from the coaches’ box overlooking the field, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@came away impressed.
“He played tremendous in the LSU game,” Aliotti said. “I think he broke up three passes … and he was very steady this last week (against Nevada).”
You can chalk it up to experience, or the steady maturation of Gildon’s 6’1, 180-pound frame that began when he arrived nearly five years ago. But Aliotti has a different theory.
“I think Anthony’s playing with a lot more confidence now,” Aliotti says. “It’s the most confidence I’ve ever seen him play with. Which is awesome…with confidence, a guy can play better, because they not only know what they’re doing; they feel good about what they’re doing.
“At corner, you have to have two things: a lot of confidence, and a short term memory. I think Anthony’s getting both of those.”
And not a moment too soon. Because, in a team-oriented sport, Gildon is uniquely alone when he steps onto the field. A battle between 22 players is whittled down to two: just him and the receiver. The slightest misstep, a moment’s hesitation, could spell disaster. If he is beaten, if he slips and falls or misreads a route, all he can do is watch as a big play occurs at his expense.
There is a distinct irony to all of this. You see, what Gildon loves most about football, what has kept him playing since he was a young boy, is the unity that only team sports can foster.
He started playing the game when he was around 5 or 6 years old. He can’t recall the exact year. What he can remember is the feeling he had when he first stepped onto the field during his Pop Warner days.
“The first thing I remember about the game was just how excited I was to play,” Gildon says. “And how we were all out there, and everybody was just a team, and after the games we would all go get pizza and just hang out.”
Many of his friends from the neighborhood were there, the same people he also saw at school every day. Football was another way for Gildon to socialize, and it didn’t hurt that he happened to be naturally gifted on the field.
“I was always pretty good,” he says. “I was always probably one of the top two or three players on my team.”
He didn’t play cornerback then. In the Pop Warner days, as is so often the case, Gildon played a little of everything: running back, safety, wherever he was needed. He didn’t move permanently to cornerback until his freshman year at Oaks Christian High School, which happened to be a breeding ground for Division I college recruits.
Throughout his time there, Gildon practiced with players like Chris Owusu (now a senior wide receiver at Stanford), @@http://www.gostanford.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/[email protected]@Marc Tyler (a redshirt senior running back at USC),@@http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/[email protected]@ and Chris [email protected]@http://thesundevils.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/[email protected]@ (a sophomore wide receiver at Arizona State). He held his own, and it proved to be an eye-opening experience.
“That’s when I realized that I’d be able to do something with (football),” Gildon says.
Owusu, Tyler and Coyle each became good friends of Gildon’s, though that didn’t stop them from spreading all across the Pac-12 landscape when the time came. For his part, Gildon fell for an Oregon Ducks team that welcomed him with open arms.
“The players were really cool around here when I came up,” Gildon says. “I came up on a couple trips, so I didn’t just come up one time, and the players were really cool, and it was close to California.”
That meant he would be able to play at least once a year in front of friends and family in Southern California, which helped mollify any doubts. His parents also signed on enthusiastically, and the decision was made. Gildon would head north, alone, to play at the University of Oregon.
He’s never been a star. He’s never been an All-American, coined a famous catch phrase, or demanded the intense media scrutiny that other players seem to attract. But with Cliff Harris seeing limited action and redshirt freshman Terrance Mitchell still adjusting to a starting role, Gildon has become one of the secondary’s most dependable players.
“Ever since I knew Anthony, he always did what he had to do,” Mitchell says. “I pretty much expected that from him. That’s just what he does.”
Gildon is standing alone when I meet him outside of the Moshofsky Center @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@on an overcast Tuesday morning. Most of the other players have trudged into the locker room after another arduous practice, but there he waits, patiently biding his time before I begin my interview.
It’s a stark reminder of the solitary nature of Gildon’s position, but also evident is the newfound confidence that allows him to cope with the pressure. He answers questions calmly, lightheartedly, his wiry frame at ease.
“I’ve been in the program so long that I know what to expect now,” he says. “I’m ready to just let everything loose and just let everything go and play.”
He looks you in the eye, and you believe him when he talks about this self-assurance.
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