John Neal is an expert at this; he’s replaced four NFL draft picks over the last couple of seasons. He’s groomed freshmen to become emergency starters when seniors went down. He’s adjusted when players left early for the league. Year after year, he recruits some of the most talented secondary athletes in the country, and often he finds overlooked gems. Jairus Byrd led the NFL with nine interceptions as a rookie; he was a three-star find. Neal has a good eye. He teaches his athletes to always be competing, and they embrace his philosophy. John Neal knows how to coach pass defense, and his former pupils have the bank balances to prove it.
Anthony Gildon will start on one side. That’s a given now with Harris gone, and Duck fans tend to underrate the steady Gildon. People seem to think he’s not athletic–the kid has a freaking 39.5-inch vertical leap. At 6-1, 180 he benches 310 lbs. According to goducks.com, in 2010 the senior defensive back was “the third-strongest player (pound for pound) after totaling 946 pounds in the clean, squat and bench (5.31 times his body weight).”
Gildon was a four-star recruit coming out of high school (rivals.com, Long Beach Press-Telegram). He played as a true freshman, and went to Oaks Christian High School, the school of the progeny of Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky and Will Smith. His senior year Oaks Christian went 15-0 and won the California state Division II title. Gildon had 10 interceptions that season. USC offered him a scholarship. Rivals rated him the 8th-best cornerback in the nation in the 2007 class. The website nfldraftscout.com states his 40 time is 4.46, with a low of 4.34. He’s not a nobody from an obscure program. but a steady, reliable player who’s done what he’s supposed to and applied himself. He played in twelve games last year, starting the first six, recorded 18 tackles. Last August, he beat out Cliff Harris for starting cornerback spot. The coaches felt Gildon was more dependable. John Neal told Stephen Alexander of the Portland Tribune, “The main thing is, he’s grown up in his ability to understand the schemes. And he’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster. He’s playing now like a real veteran.” Gildon was the one guy who could lock up Jeff Maehl in practice. The epic battles the two staged will pay dividends this season.
The video below is Gildon being interviewed before the Stanford game; it’s included because it shows him to be a bright, energetic kid with plenty of personality of his own:
He doesn’t have Kash’s flamboyance, or all of his God-given gifts, but #18 continues to be where he’s supposed to be and has learned his craft. And John Neal is not finished with him yet. Though he won’t make anyone forget Cliff Harris, he may yet remind Duck fans of some very capable and hard-working cornerbacks of the past before he’s done, guy who kept working, who improved every year. Gildon’s best asset? He has John Boyett playing next to him. The heady veteran safety erases quite a few mistakes, and discourages those routes over the middle.