SHAWNEE — A story problem:
A high school football player is invited to walk on as a fullback at the University of Oklahoma. Playing time is not guaranteed. Only the prestige of suiting up for one of the premier college football programs in the land.
The high school football player is also offered a scholarship by a considerably smaller football program. He is asked to play defensive end with an opportunity to play a whole lot over a four-year period.
Which should he choose?
The solution was easy for Kimes Gilbert, a mathematics major who needed no slide rule to figure out that Option B was the correct answer.
Less than a week before Oklahoma Baptist begins its season, the redshirt sophomore defensive end already has 21 games of college experience, including 16 as a starter.
“I just came to the conclusion that I wanted to look back on my college experience and see it as having a lot of fun,” said Gilbert, a 6-foot, 240-pound rock with a Bam Bam Rubble handshake. “I wanted to have four years of playing time, and I knew that if I went to a small school I could do that. I have confidence in myself that I would’ve eventually played at OU, but it would’ve taken a while, especially as a walk on.”
Gilbert was an offensive tackle at Southmoore High School but recruited by colleges as a defensive end because of his shorter stature. Then-Southmoore coach Chris Jensen showed film of Gilbert to Oklahoma assistant coach Cale Gundy, who eventually invited Gilbert to walk on as a fullback.
But Gilbert considered his options, the possibilities of playing sooner than later. He signed with NCAA Division II-member Southwestern Oklahoma State and ended up starting five of the 10 games he played on defense.
About 100 miles east, Oklahoma Baptist announced it was re-starting varsity football, and it hired Jensen as head coach. Gilbert — as well as several other former SaberCats — transferred to the tiny NAIA program to play for Jensen.
The Bison took some lumps during their inaugural season, finishing 3-8. But Gilbert, a one-time state powerlifting champion, was a beast.
He led the NAIA with 16 sacks for minus-52 yards. Gilbert finished second in the nation in total tackles for loss with 25 for minus-90 yards. He was named second-team All-American at the end of the season, although some of his statistics were better than first-team selections.
“I know Kimes, and he’s not going to rest on that either,” Jensen said. “He’s going to build on it.”
Gilbert is the centerpiece figure on the team’s schedule poster that’s handed out to fans. On the OBU website, he is pictured wrapping up a quarterback. A few weeks ago, Gilbert was a first-team preseason All-America pick by USA College Football.
He is modest almost to a fault.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team effort,” Gilbert said. “I’m still learning the position, I don’t know everything about it. So it’s the result of being surrounded by some great teammates. We blitz a lot, bring a lot of pressure, and some of it is being in the right place at the right time.”
Saturday afternoon crowds at OBU might top out at 5,000 compared to 80,000 at a big box venue like Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Central States Football League championships are the goal in Shawnee, not Big 12 titles.
But Oklahoma Baptist has turned out as the right place for Gilbert.
“I’m a guy who wants to be on the field,” Gilbert said. “I want to be playing and doing my job instead of watching from the sidelines. I made the right decision.”