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December 20, 2008DALLAS (AP) - Garrett Gilbert played quarterback when he was barely old enough to walk, throwing pass after pass to himself while watching his dad's NFL games on television.
That toddler in Gale Gilbert's living room has grown into a top national recruit who will try to win his second Texas state championship in his final game for Lake Travis High School.
The younger Gilbert will take another title into Saturday's Class 4A Division I final against Longview in Waco: The Texas Associated Press Sports Editors Player of the Year. The future Texas Longhorn was honored Friday after throwing for 3,043 yards during the regular season with 38 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
"When you take a little boy, these are his dreams and they are coming true," said Kim Gilbert, Garrett's mom. "That's pretty cool."
It's been pretty well understood since those days in San Diego in the 1990s that Garrett Gilbert wanted to be like his dad. Now the only question is where that career will lead.
Gale Gilbert's career was notable for its quirks.
He was California's starting quarterback opposite John Elway in the famous Cal-Stanford band game of 1982, which means he was watching when his teammates lateraled five times on a kickoff return after time ran out and scored the winning touchdown by weaving through Stanford band members who marched onto the field prematurely.
As a pro, he went to five consecutive Super Bowls - four with Buffalo and one with San Diego. He was a backup every time, but he's still the only player who can say that.
"I think that would be my only claim to fame," Gale Gilbert said.
Now he's known as the tutor and mentor of one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Texas high school history. Add his playoff games, and Garrett Gilbert is 350 yards shy of the state career record of 12,532 held by Graham Harrell, who won a title at Ennis before leading Texas Tech to the highest ranking in school history this season.
Gale Gilbert coached his son in youth football, and now most days they huddle for brief video sessions. During the season, Gale Gilbert also hosted weekly barbecue dinners where several players and their dads would show up and watch film. But he was always clear about the line between himself and his son's coaching staff.
"With the knowledge that he has and the experience that he has, the thing I would tell you is he did such a great job of staying out of the way of us coaches," said former Lake Travis coach Jeff Dicus, who moved to Duncanville after last year's state championship. "He didn't try to oversee the things that we were doing. That type of behavior from him only elevated (Garrett's) career."
The closest Gale Gilbert came to coaching his son in high school was the summer 7-on-7 circuit, when dads often are in charge because the regular coaches can't be involved.
In fact, Lake Travis had the best coaching ringers in the 7-on-7 business: Gilbert and Hardee McCrary, a former Texas assistant under Mack Brown and the father of Garrett Gilbert's favorite target, Cade McCrary. The Gilbert dad coached offense, of course, and the McCrary dad coached the defense, his specialty during a 30-year career.
"We did have a little bit up on most dads," Hardee McCrary said with a sheepish chuckle.
Not that it mattered much with Garrett Gilbert running the show.
"You can imagine what he was like in 7-on-7," Hardee McCrary said. "No pass rush and four seconds to throw the ball. We had some great times over at College Station at the state tournament."
Garrett Gilbert is looking for most of his great times to be in Austin over the next few years. He'll wait until the summer to report to Texas, bypassing the trendy move among quarterbacks of graduating early in order to go through spring practice as soon as possible in college.
But he'll be ready. Gale Gilbert played with former Longhorn Brian Millard in Seattle, and their friendship led him to the Austin area. The California couple settled in Texas even as Gilbert's career continued in Buffalo and San Diego.
As a result, Garrett Gilbert knew nothing but the Longhorns growing up. He went to their practices because his best friend's dad was a coach. He faithfully attended the football summer camp. When the Longhorns offered a scholarship, that trip to the Cal campus might as well have been just a vacation in the San Francisco area. It didn't even help that Kim Gilbert had been a cheerleader there.
"We tried," Gale Gilbert said. "Texas was in his blood. It was a no-brainer."
College success for Garrett Gilbert seems pretty certain, too. He's the No. 2-rated pro-style quarterback in the country, according to the recruiting Web site rivals.com. He's 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Coaches say he can make all the throws, and his senior season has been notable for his improvement as a runner.
If he sounds like a player everybody should know about already, there might be a reason he isn't. As long as they've known their son wanted to be a quarterback, Garrett Gilbert's parents have worked to make sure he kept things in perspective.
"They remind me all the time that it's not about me, it's about the other guys," Garrett Gilbert said. "I wouldn't have any of what's going on right now without the other 10 guys on the field."
He's sharing his final moments with those high school teammates, and the parents are starting to realize that the end of a long and magical ride is near. And yet, for Garrett Gilbert, it might be just beginning.
"I've been so blessed over the last few years," he said. "A great group of friends. All the parents, the coaching staff. It has been pretty much a dream come true."
A dream his mom saw forming even in her son's first steps.