GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida's quest for an undefeated season could rest upon the shoulders of a former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout.
Projected starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas in 2006, will be charged with protecting the blind side of senior left-handed quarterback Tim Tebow.
The stability of the offense, the hopes of another national championship and perhaps another Heisman Trophy for Tebow could all be determined by Gilbert's ability as a personal bodyguard.
It only seems fitting that Gilbert, a redshirt junior, is protecting Tebow in the most important season of his collegiate career. The business of personally protecting VIPs runs in Gilbert's family.
Marcus' father, Jeff, is a Secret Service agent who has protected Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Jeff Gilbert served as a Secret Service agent in the White House during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He was later assigned to protecting Obama during his two-year campaign for the presidency.
How does he handle the pressure?
"I take pride in blocking for a guy like Tim Tebow," Gilbert said. "It comes with a lot of pressure, but it makes you focus and play to the best of your ability."
So focused is Gilbert this preseason that every night before he goes to bed he writes himself notes of what he must improve upon during the next day's practices. The team is sequestered in a Gainesville hotel during two-a-days.
Most players sleep or play video games in their downtime. Gilbert said he does homework to prepare himself for the next day.
And Gilbert might be integral to Tebow's success in plays under center.
This new aspect of UF's offense makes Gilbert's job even more demanding. Not only does he have to protect Tebow, but Gilbert also must help his quarterback show off his newly learned footwork for NFL scouts.
Gilbert welcomes the addition of the I-formation. For him, the more he learns in college, the more he will be prepared for the NFL. After weathering several injuries during his first three seasons at UF, including an elbow injury that required surgery, Gilbert can now see his future taking shape.
"I want to play in the NFL," Gilbert said. "That's what I came here for and that's what I want to do. I'm at the right tackle position, a position I always wanted to play since I got here, and now I'm here and I'm going to take full advantage of it."
Photo: Tim Casey/GatorCountry.org