Oklahoma State football: Cowboys' Justin Gilbert has gone full circle from 2012 disappointment to 2013 Thorpe Award finalist

by Gina Mizell Published: December 11, 2013

Yet Gilbert was left off the list of 15 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award released in late October. Griffin stressed that the committee's behind-closed-doors list is actually quite fluid, and that it's not entirely unusual for a player not on a semifinalist list to sneak into finalist contention with a strong final month.

That certainly happened with Gilbert, when he tallied two interceptions against the Longhorns, including one returned 43 yards for a score.

Still, Gilbert was surprised when cornerbacks coach Van Malone broke the news that he was heading to Orlando.

“It was totally unexpected,” Gilbert said. “From not being on the top 15, the semifinal list. Just to make that jump, for me, was an impressive jump.

“I think it really came down to me making plays, and those guys up front allowing me to make those plays. The defensive line getting tremendous pass rush on the quarterback and just me making breaks on the ball. Everybody's doing their job.”

Gilbert has stiff competition for the award in Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. Both lead squads that are conference champions and rank in the top 6 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense.

And Gilbert's final two games — where he was slowed by that shoulder injury and could not corral a near-interception that would have clinched a Cowboy win in Bedlam — may impact his chances of winning.

Regardless, though, Gilbert called his subpar 2012 season a “minor setback for a major comeback.” Sitting amongst college football's best players, as a contender for the Thorpe Award, proves he's accomplished that goal.

“There's a lot of good (defensive backs) out there,” Griffin said. “Being from Oklahoma, we're glad that Justin Gilbert made the finalist list.”

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