The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Sports

May 8, 2014

Cleveland rocks — Former Huntsville Hornet drafted by Browns

Gilbert becomes first Huntsville Hornet selected in first round of NFL Draft

HUNTSVILLE — Justin Gilbert’s future will be with the Cleveland Browns.

Gilbert, a standout player with the Hornets and then with Oklahoma State, became the highest draft pick in Huntsville history after being selected eighth overall by Cleveland in the NFL Draft on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“It really hit home when I stepped onto the stage with the commissioner, Roger Goodell,” Gilbert said in a phone interview Thursday night.

“Not many people get this opportunity. It’s a blessing. Everything tonight was wonderful.”

On a night that saw a lifetime dream come true, no one could’ve been beaming brighter than his mother, Iwanna Rolling.

“We are just so proud of him,” Rolling said.

Just before Gilbert was drafted, the Browns executed a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to move up from the No. 9 spot to No. 8.

Once that move was made, Gilbert figured that he would hear his name, considering he had a last-minute meeting with the Browns on Monday.

“The day before I actually got here in New York, I met with the Browns in a hotel in Houston,” Gilbert told NFL Network’s Deion Sanders, who Gilbert said he modeled himself after while playing for the Hornets. “They flew all the way down to meet with me, so I had a pretty good feeling.

“They didn’t really say they were going to pick me. They were just asking me a bunch of questions about my life, myself and my family. I enjoyed talking with them and I felt good after the meeting.”

After seeing one of his players drafted, former Hornets coach Shane Martin couldn’t stop heaping praise upon Gilbert.

“This is just amazing. Amazing for Justin, his family and for Huntsville,” said Martin, who began coaching Gilbert in the spring of his sophomore year.

“The biggest thing is watching him grow up. He wasn’t one of those rah-rah leaders. He was quiet and led by example. Not a lot of cornerbacks came back after their junior year and I think that was the best thing that could’ve happened for him.

“He stayed hungry and played hard. This is just awesome for him.”

Immediately, Gilbert will be relying on the experience of four-year veteran cornerback Joe Haden.

“They asked me about Joe Haden, too, with him being a top guy,” Gilbert also said of Monday’s meeting with Browns officials. “I told them I expect on learning from him and growing from there. I’m not expecting on doing too much early, just earning the respect from the older guys.”

Gilbert was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award presented to college football’s best defensive back in 2013, as well as a consensus All-American.

Gilbert finished the 2013 season with seven interceptions. He returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns, bringing his career non-offensive touchdown total to eight.

As much of an impact as Gilbert made as a lock-down defender, he made just as much or more of an impact in the kick return game. Gilbert owns the Oklahoma State record and Big 12 record with six career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

He ranks second all-time at OSU with 2,681 kickoff return yards and holds a career return average of 26.28 yards.

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