Maryland offensive tackle Justin Gilbert didn’t enjoy the opening half of his first trip to West Virginia.
The Terrapins trailed 21-0 at the break. The boisterous lineman was one of several players exhorting teammates to put forth a better effort in the second half.
“Let’s go, we’re better than this, let’s get a drive going,” Gilbert recalled as the banter flying aross the locker room.
Within three series, Gilbert absorbed a torn anterior cruciate ligament as he stepped back to protect quarterback Jamarr Robinson, a freak injury stemming from a bad step backward rather than any physical contact from a defensive player.
“It was real hard for me getting hurt like that, and spending the rest of the game in the locker room,” Gilbert said. “It sucks. Being the starting left tackle and being one of the guys that was trying to get everybody going, and then all the sudden I couldn’t do anything to help the team.”
It was the first of two knee injuries that would shelve Gilbert for a total of 17 games. He returned late last season, starting the final three contests at right guard. He moved over to right tackle in the spring and has played virtually every snap for the Terrapins, who visit No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday.
He would miss the final 10 games of Maryland’s Military Bowl season. By the time he returned last fall, the Terps were already 2-6 and nearly assured a losing season.
But on that September 2010 afternoon in Morgantown, Gilbert had no idea just what he would eventually miss. He simply wanted to return to the game – and, after returning to the locker room, just get a look at what would become a 31-17 West Virginia victory.
“I kept asking Dr. [Craig] Bennett if there was anything I could do to play – shoot me up, wrap me up, do whatever you could to let me go back in the game,” Gilbert said. “They took me inside because they wanted to X-ray it. They took me in the locker room and I showered and I had to sit there and listen to the stadium. They didn’t have any TVs. All I got to do was ask the security guy working our locker room every once in a while to run out and look at what the score was. That was probably the roughest part, sitting there and not knowing what was going on.”
Gilbert recovered in impressively quick fashion, returning to spring practice a little more than six months after his first knee surgery. He suffered another ACL tear a few weeks later, keeping him on the sideline for another six months before he resumed practicing last fall.
Nonetheless, the injury at West Virginia was a significant career detour for a man who was starting at left tackle as a sophomore. And Saturday, Gilbert has his first chance to face the Mountaineers since his first ACL tear.
“I would probably say that’s my worst football memory,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5, 6 years old and I’d never had a real, major injury like a lot of guys had. I’d always finished seasons. I always got mad in high school if I would miss two or three plays just from being banged up. Missing a season like that, especially a big game and missing a big season like we had that year, it was hard for me. Going back and getting back after them is going to be real nice.”