- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert could become a rich man later this week. The former Cowboy could be selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft on Thursday. Opinions vary on Gilbert with some rating him as the top cornerback in the draft. The general consensus has him being taken among the first 32 picks.
OSU cornerbacks’ coach Van Malone, who switched to coaching cornerbacks in 2013 after coaching the safeties during the 2012 season, has known Gilbert since the NFL prospect was in high school so he understands Gilbert’s journey to elite NFL prospect better than most. With the draft approaching, Malone took some time to chat with ESPN.com about Gilbert and his improvement from junior to senior year.
What was your first impression of Justin?
I had recruited him when I was at Texas A&M (Malone coached at Texas A&M from 2006-2009) so I knew about him, his family and what type of person he was. When I came through the doors at Oklahoma State with him and a few of the guys on the team it was more like reuniting. When I switched to the corners, it was a natural transition. I went to talk to him first, before any other player, because I wanted to talk to him about that fact a lot of people were talking about his junior season. I had seen a couple interviews about being disappointed and the first thing I said was, “Hey, we’re going to let that go.” At cornerback you have to have the mentality that “that play is over” and that year was like a play, we’re going to let that go, we’re not going to talk about that, we’re going to focus on the next season and he took that to heart.
What’s been the biggest area of growth in the past year?
He developed a sense of responsibility, a sense of leadership. He’s always been a guy that, “Hey what time do we need to be there? I’m going to be there.’ But he never realized his responsibility, by his actions or his words, to make sure he’s leading the other guys. He started to do that this season, which, when a guy is a senior it’s almost pulled out of them. And I think he made considerable improvement as far as his preparation for his opponent. He matured in that way and had a understanding that what you do during the week, during the offseason, the summertime, it will pay off. Our guys talk, even today, about how they were always impressed with his work.
I’d imagine there were a lot of them, but was there one play where you realized his talent?
There were a lot of them but there are a couple games I always allude to. The Texas game, he got beat for a catch. His technique on that particular play was poor and he got beat. We came back to the sideline and, like you would want, he was listening, he knew what he did wrong, he could explain what he did wrong and he went back out there, they attacked him with the same route and, with great technique, he intercepted it. It’s what I call video evidence, the younger guys can learn from what happened. They saw a bad play, they saw him correct it and they saw him go out and make a good play on the same exact play. If you do the same thing two times, you have two interceptions. He had that happen in the West Virginia game and the Texas game.
When you think of Thursday what will it be like for you?
It will be a proud moment. I’ve been talking to Justin the past few days, talking to his family, talking to his mom, who is a big part of his life. I’ve been trying to give him those pieces of advice that people gave to me and I didn’t grab onto or that people didn’t give to me. Doors will open that were never open to you before, people always say people with money change, “money changes you.” No, it doesn’t, it changes the people around you. Be who you’ve been all of your life, treat people the right way, have fun with this super opportunity and make the most of it. I told them his mom is that person for him, maintain that relationship because his mom does not want anything from him, she wants nothing but him to be successful. Those are the type of people you need to maintain relationships with. Thursday will be a proud moment for me, Oklahoma State and for Justin as well.
I’m sure that helps on the recruiting trail.
Of course. Kids want to go to [the NFL]. For me it’s about the players. Good players make great coaches and that’s what Justin is and was, he’s going to go and make someone else a great coach. When recruits watch Justin they can see some of the things we’ve helped him develop on only on the field but his character, his behavior as a teammate, how he operates with his family, in the community, that’s important. We’re proud to say he spent time at Oklahoma State and will point to him when we recruit.
4dDavid M. Hale