Family Ties To Continue At ND For Gibbons Family
For Reilly Gibbons, there was always one school at the top of his wish list as he went through his recruiting process as an offensive lineman in the Class of 2014.
“Notre Dame wasn’t kind of a dream school for me, it was my dream school,” says Gibbons. “I was very, very excited about Notre Dame. The idea of being up there and being a part of that kind of tradition is just incredible.”
The Florida native was recruited by the Irish, but never officially offered and ended up signing with Stanford out of St. Petersburg Catholic High School.
“It didn’t happen for me, I didn’t have that kind of opportunity,” he says of the chance to go to Notre Dame.
But Gibbons’ younger brother, Dillan, did get that chance and didn’t wait long to jump at the opportunity.
“When Dillan started his recruiting process, we talked about stuff; what I would have done differently, what we could have done, how it could have worked out,” Reilly remembers. “I always came back to Notre Dame personally.
“When he started getting recruited by Notre Dame, it was like, ‘OK, this is cool, let’s see where it goes.’”
Before Dillan even began his junior season of high school, Notre Dame extended an offer. Reilly was at South Florida at the time, where he ended up after transferring from Stanford. The family was separated by hundreds of miles, but as Dillan and his parents traveled home, everybody’s minds were on the same thing.
“He talks about the car ride back and how he was thinking about it,” Reilly says. “I was the same way. I was thinking the entire weekend until they got back, ‘Is this the place for Dillan? Is it a good opportunity?’
“I think it’s one of the best you could have. I can’t imagine a better mixture of academics and football plus culture. It’s not just the team and the winning and losing, whatever it is. It’s the culture of that program that is just incredible to me. You get up there and it’s just a bunch of really good dudes all together.”
But he wondered if almost two years before Signing Day for the Class of 2017 was a little early for Dillan to make the decision to commit.
“It seemed like kind of a lot, but he convinced us,” Reilly explains. “He sat us down as a family and in one of the more adult moves he’d made to the point, he told us that he wanted to go to Notre Dame. I fully supported him after that.
“I’m not much of a crier. My dad is the crier in the family, but I might have shed a few tears. That kind of opportunity is something you can’t pass up.”
Reilly may not have had the opportunity to play for Notre Dame, but he certainly played a role in his younger brother getting his.
Katie is the oldest Gibbons child, just one year older than Reilly, so they’re tight. Meanwhile, Dillan has a twin sister, Delanie, and they’ve always had a tight bond.
“I think my recruiting process is what really brought the boys in the family together because we went on a lot of boys’ trips, we got to go around the country to different camps and talk football and all of that,” Reilly says. “That’s what really sparked a really close relationship between us.”
That bond was strengthened even further when Dillan played alongside his older brother at right guard as a freshman at St. Petersburg Catholic.
“I got to play with him, teach him everything I could while I was there,” Reilly says. “Honestly, I didn’t really know that much, just how to be big and push people around. I taught him that, that work ethic and the idea that if you work at something really hard, eventually it’s going to pay off.”
A few months later, Reilly was in Palo Alto while Dillan was getting ready to take part in his first showcase camps. Shannon Gibbons asked his oldest son to give his youngest son some advice beforehand.
“I said, ‘Dillan, go out there and punch the biggest guy in the mouth. Go out there and don’t be afraid of anybody,’” Reilly recalls. “That’s what he did. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, he went out there and he did his best against guys who were much older and much bigger and stronger than him. He’s always been that kind of guy.”
As Reilly was schooled in advanced level line play, he funneled that information back home to Dillan.
“Going out to Stanford, Coach (Mike) Bloomgren out there is really, really, really good,” says Reilly. “He puts a lot of guys in the NFL. He’s one of those technical coaches. I think that was the big change for me, going from just doing your job on a play to beating yourself every play by being more and more technical; getting every step just right, throwing your hands at just the right time. That was the transition that I tried to put into him.”
Reilly could see his brother using what he was being taught.
“His freshman year, he was my guard and he went and made all of his blocks like he was supposed to,” says Reilly. “Then his sophomore year, watching him play at Northside, he was just dominating people.
“It just seems like overnight, he went from being a part of the team, someone who plays well and does his role to being a dominant force out there on the field. It was incredible.”
When he transferred to South Florida, Reilly had the chance to learn from another offensive line coach.
“Coach Danny Hope, my goodness, he is just one of the best out there,” he says. “He taught me that not only is it important to have that technical aspect, but that fight and finish, that’s something you cannot replicate. If you’re not fighting and finishing every play, you lost. You chalk that rep up as a loss.
“That’s something I was able to bring to Dillan and say, ‘Hey Dillan, not only do you have to do your best to be technical, but every single play, you should be running after the ball to try to push the pile or pushing your guy to the ground. It’s not enough to finish one guy and lay on top of him anymore. Now you’re expected to make your block and continue that block out all of the way downfield with the ball.’”
Again, Reilly saw Dillan take another step forward. By this time, Dillan was committed to Notre Dame and was ready to harness his natural aggression.
“Everyone always said Dillan had a mean streak when he played football,” Reilly explains. “He went from being just a mean guy, a guy who was finishing every play, maybe to the point where it was a little bit out of control, to being a real technical player.
“He has the good footwork, he has the punch, he has everything you really look for, the small details to be a really successful lineman at the next level. He got into the mindset that he was committed to Notre Dame and didn’t need to go out and roughhouse and talk after the play. It was really incredible to watch.
“He was able to absorb a lot of that. Watch some of his game tape from his freshman year to his sophomore year to his junior and senior year. You can see that he doesn’t lay down on people anymore his sophomore and junior year. He finishes someone to the ground, gets up and tries to hit someone else. It’s just great to watch.”
Reilly describes Dillan’s senior season at Clearwater Central Catholic as “just flat domination.”
“There was not a person who lined up across from him who could ever chalk up their play as a win,” he says. “It’s just not how it works. He went out and every single play, he did the best he could to win. The guys next to him, they saw that during practice and camp and they emulated him.
“He changed that offensive line. He took them from a bunch of kids who were kind of together to brothers who wanted to fight for one another. That was just because of him, not because of me or Dad or someone else. He did that. He made that offensive line one cohesive unit and he was the leader. It’s surreal.”
But as Dillan reached new levels as a player, Reilly had already hung up his cleats, forced to give up the game in March of 2016 because of injury, just when he appeared on the verge of earning a starting position for the Bulls.
“Losing football for me was hard,” Reilly admits. “I really enjoyed the guys on the team, the aspect of being a team and all of that.”
But he was able to shift his focus to academics, specifically studying for the LSAT as he was on track to graduate in three years.
“It turned out, I was pretty good at it,” he says. “I did really well on the test and I’ve been able to keep my grades up pretty high.”
He applied to law schools and found himself in familiar position, waiting to hear from Notre Dame.
“When you apply, they give you a status checker, it’s a little website that tells you how you’re doing,” he explains.
One morning, Reilly noticed his status had been changed. He was in. He couldn’t think about anything else during class that day.
“My professor said, ‘Hey, you must be having a good day today?’” Reilly explains. “I said, ‘Well, yes sir I am. It’s actually one of the best days ever.’
“It didn’t really feel real until I got the packet the next week. It came in the FedEx envelope and had my acceptance letter and a letter from the Dean of Admissions. It was just crazy for me to be able to finally say, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do with my life.’”
So, three years later, Reilly is headed to South Bend for law school while his little brother is coming to play football.
“I think it’s going to be one of those experiences you never forget about,” says Reilly. “For me to be able to be there for Dillan while he’s going through his next step in his football career, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. To have him and for him to have me up there, I think it’s going to establish that real home connection, instead of just being a place where you go to school and play football. It’ll be more like home. That’s really what I want to go up there for.
“I’m really, really, really excited and proud of him for getting in there and being able to have this opportunity in his life. You always hope for the best. Our family, we’re optimists and always have been. We’re the kind of people who support each other through anything.
“It’s been a hell of a ride.”