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‘Gotta eat’: Arizona defensive lineman Reggie Gilbert chows down in return

Reggie Gilbert

Reggie Gilbert

Arizona Wildcats redshirt freshman defensive lineman Reggie Gilbert was famished. He hadn’t played in a football game in nearly a month.

“I was so hungry,” he said after Wednesday’s practice.

“I would come out here to watch my teammates, and I saw them practicing, running around, having fun. I got kind of jealous. I was saying, ‘I’ve got to get back on the field.’”

Gilbert (6-3, 254) suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half at Oregon on Sept. 22 and missed the next two games before returning Saturday against Washington. Gilbert had 1.5 sacks — the first sacks of his career.

“I love football to death,” he said. “It was so great to be out there and help my teammates win.”

Coach Rich Rodriguez keeps saying he is looking for guys who “love” football, not just like it. Add Gilbert to guys on the first list. He is, after all, a guy who kept describing practice as fun.

“Oh, yeah, practice is fun every day for us,” he said.

“We’re out here competing against one another. Our practice, our tempo, our whole style, is competitiveness — all day, every day, you know?”

Gilbert and the rest of his mates on the defense line will try to show that Saturday against USC, starting at 12:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.

Gilbert, from Fairfax High in Laveen, started the first four games of the season at defensive tackle in UA’s 3-3-5 scheme (the tackle position would be more like a defensive end in a four-man front). The defensive line has only 3.5 sacks this season, and the Wildcats have a mere 10 as a team.

Arizona did have four sacks of Washington Keith Price last week, its most in a game since having six against Arizona State in the 2010 regular-season finale. That’s nice, but the Huskies’ injury-riddled offensive line is not good.

USC is a different story. The Trojans have allowed only two sacks in the past four games, although here’s maybe something for Gilbert and Arizona to exploit: Max Tuerk is in line to be the first true freshman to ever start a game at left tackle for USC. Aundrey Walker is ailing with a neck injury suffered last week.

No doubt, Arizona lacks an elite pass rusher. That’s why fullback Taimi Tutogi comes in at end in third-down pass-rushing situations. But having Gilbert back helps.

“He is a strong guy,” Rodriguez said.

“Reggie has been battling injuries and I don’t think he has been 100 percent all year, but he is a strong guy that has good athletic ability. When he is healthy he has been one of our better pass rushers.”

And one of Arizona’s hungriest players.

That’s been a theme for Rodriguez.

Before last week’s game, he exhorted his team, saying, “It’s time to eat, it’s time to eat.” In the postgame locker room, players chanted, “Gotta eat, gotta eat.” (See video below).

“When one person is hungry, it’s like a domino effect. Everyone wants to eat,” Gilbert said.

“A man who is hungry will pretty much do anything to eat. That’s why we work as hard as we do, so when it comes to Saturday, when it comes to showcasing our skills, then we can eat.”

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CREDIT: Arizona Athletics
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