The Pittsburgh Steelers selected University of Akron linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III in the sixth round (207th overall) of the NFL Draft on Saturday, fulfilling for him a dream to play for his favorite team when he was growing up.
“My heart was jumping out of my chest when I seen it was the Steelers calling,” Gilbert said when reached by phone. “I calmed down and I just answered it. It was [Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin. I was just excited and happy to get a call. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s my favorite team. It’s like a blessing come through.”
Gilbert said they talked about his hometown of Ocala, Fla., exchanging pleasantries. However, Tomlin told him he would have to work for playing time.
“A lot of special teams,” Gilbert said when asked what plans the Steelers had for him. “Then working my way into [defensive] schemes.”
Gilbert, who never missed a game in college on the way to playing in a school-record 51, isn’t worried he won’t be able to make that transition to a contributing on defense.
“I’m very confident in my skills,” the 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker said. “I think God blessed me with this ability. I know I’m going to learn. I know I’m going to do whatever I can do for the team and do anything I can do to stay on, so I’m just excited to be up there and get to work.”
Before the draft, former University of Akron defensive coordinator and associate head coach Chuck Amato said it might’ve been in Gilbert’s best interest to go into the league as an undrafted free agent.
“If he’s not drafted. Someone is going to pick up a great player [as a free agent],” Amato said during a recent interview. “To me, if he doesn’t get drafted in the first five rounds, he should hope he doesn’t, so he can pick his own [team].”
Although he played for a mid-major program, Brown exhibited the skills on the field as a player and leader found in prospects from a Power 5 program. He won all-MAC honors three consecutive seasons. He had 353 career tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
He understood where he fell in the pecking order, but believed he should have gone higher. He said he will use being passed over as motivation.
“I’m definitely going in with a chip on my shoulder. I mean I didn’t want to get passed up this much, but I did, Gilbert said. “That’s the way it is, but I’m glad I got the opportunity with the Steelers and I’m going to go in with a chip on my shoulders and do everything I can for that organization.”
The attitude may serve him well, just as it has Jatavis Brown, a former UA linebacker and teammate drafted in the fifth round in 2016. By the time he talked to the Beacon Journal, he’d already talked to Brown, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the fifth round in 2016.
“He said good luck. Remember this feeling of getting passed up so much and he said he’ll see me in Week 6.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.