Laveen (Ariz.) Fairfax defensive end Reggie Gilbert could not be more excited to get to Tucson and officially become a Wildcat. He’s got a roommate picked out, has already began forming friendships with future teammates, and is working hard for the opportunity to contribute on the football field.
“I’ve been working on all the aspects of my game, but I’ve been focusing on my quickness,” Gilbert says. “In high school, usually I ran past everybody, but I know that college football is that much more competitive.
“I can’t wait to get down there."
San Diego (Calif.) Hoover defensive end Dame Ndiaye is looking forward to joining Gilbert at the University of Arizona; both on the field, and in their shared dorm room.
“Dame and I exchanged numbers and we’ve been communicating for the past few months just to form a better connection and to get to know each other,” reports Gilbert. “We thought that rooming together would be a good experience. We figured that we both have the same interests, we can catch each other when we’re slipping and we can keep each other focused and on track.”
However, developing relationships and improving his game are not the only things that Gilbert has been working on. He’s also been busy bettering himself as a person.
Gilbert, along with teammates Anthony Arledge, Kurtis Walls, Jamal Johnson, and Dwight Melvin (who received his own offer to UA on Tuesday) recently initiated a community outreach program to advance literacy within their community.
“With me going down to UA, I knew that I would have to do some type of community service,” Gilbert explains. “My teammates and I have always wanted to help the community. The guys that I hang around with, I feel like we all have the same kind of mindset. We’re like a family. I came to coach Belcher and talked with him about that. I talked to a bunch of other guys on the team and they were all for it and it was something they wanted to get involved with too.
“We found out that literacy is a big problem within our schools, and we feel that those kids look up to us as high school football players. They view us as role models, so we figured it’d be perfect to go to the elementary schools and show them the importance of literacy.”
With Fairfax head Coach Kevin Belcher’s help, the student-athletes secured several hundred textbooks to be donated to second grade classrooms at Desert Meadows Elementary School.
And they didn’t stop there.
The group visited the school to read to the second graders and speak with them about the importance of literacy.
The football players hoped to inspire the young children, but what they didn’t realize is how much the second graders could inspire them as well.
“They were all very happy,” Gilbert recalls. “I haven’t seen kids that excited about books in a long time. We read books that were interactive and they thought that was really cool. After we read them a couple books, we surprised them and gave them all a book; we let them choose what they wanted. They really loved it.
“I really like doing stuff like that and helping people. I just feel that football has done so much for me and if I have the opportunity to change somebody’s life for the better and mentor people that look up to me, that’s definitely something that I want to do. I talked to Belcher about it, and I feel like this is something I want to come back every year for.”
That idea is one that Kevin Belcher will not be likely to refuse. He’s extremely proud of his impressive group of kids.
“All I had said to our football players was that I wanted them to be able to create an outreach program, but I wanted them to pick something that they would be genuinely interested in,” Belcher claims. “At the school we have a mission and part of that mission is to try to develop these kids both academically and athletically, and to enrich their character development, so this kind of works right into that."
Belcher is happy with the effect the literacy outreach program had on his players, and is looking forward to utilizing their help in continuing to assist the community.
“They’re real excited," he said. "They’re so excited that they helped plan a football camp this summer. The camp is a literacy camp, where they’re bringing in a bunch of little kids. We have some sponsors donating money for them to go buy more books for more kids next year.”
With their efforts on and off the field, Reggie Gilbert and his fellow teammates continue to impress their coach.
“For me, and I think for any football coach in high school, when you have a group of kids that are doing it right in the classroom, doing it right outside of the classroom, and finding out that they’re being successful and still winning championships on the field; well, how can you not enjoy coaching a group of kids like that?"