By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
For more than 100 years, young men and women have participated in local athletic events and several have gone on to excel on the national level. During the next several weeks, The Messenger will look back on these careers, beginning with several outstanding high school football players who went on to play at the major college level. This week’s spotlight is the high school and college career of David Gilmer.
David Gilmer was born on Oct. 18, 1961 to T. Gilmer and Johnnie Gilmer.
“We lived on Lookout Mountain on the farm of Hoyt Lumpkin,” said David Gilmer. “Daddy worked at Goodyear and also crop farmed. We worked the farm with mules, and when [University of Alabama] Coach [Bear] Bryant was recruiting me, he told Daddy to ‘Put me on a mule and keep me there!’”
At Etowah High School, Gilmer was a standout at almost every position he played on the gridiron.
“I played nose guard, linebacker, running back, fullback, center and offensive line,” he said.
Although the 1980 Blue Devils struggled through a 1-9 season, Gilmer was a standout.
“I was listed in the top 50 high school players in the nation and was second in Alabama behind Hardy Lee Walker,” he said.
Gilmer was having such an outstanding season that Bryant was calling for his services.
“Coach Bryant called often,” said Gilmer. “He would ask me, ‘Son, how are your grades?’”
After speaking to David, Coach Bryant always asked to speak to David’s father.
“Coach Bryant was born in 1913 and Daddy was born in 1914, so they were close to the same age and would carry on long conversations. It would be several years before I knew what they were actually talking about!”
While the younger Gilmer was being recruited by many of the major NCAA programs throughout the United States, it was learned that his father was suffering from cancer.
“Daddy was in the hospital on signing day and Coach Bryant was coming to the hospital to sign me in person,” said Gilmer. “We learned that Coach Bryant had the flu and was not going to be able to come. We told Daddy, but he insisted that Coach Bryant would be there.”
The door opened a short time later, and Bryant and Billy Varner stepped in the hospital room. After Coach “Shorty” White handled the scholarship signing, Bryant talked to the elder Gilmer for about an hour.
“Daddy knew he would come because Coach Bryant had given him his word, and that and a handshake is all you need.”
Gilmer was red-shirted his freshman year, but his 1982 season would be unforgettable.
Bryant’s health was failing, and he announced after the Auburn game that the Liberty Bowl would be his final game.
“Illinois was big and had a great quarterback in the person of Tony Easom,” said Gilmer.
“They practiced the week before the game in full pads in the mud, while Coach Bryant didn’t run us hard after the Auburn game.
“Coach Bryant knew what he was doing. Before the game, he came in and talked to us. Coach told us that what had happened that season was his fault, and he did not want to hurt any of his players. He said that the eyes of the sports world will be on this game tonight, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Alabama would win. We never wanted to disappoint Coach Bryant, and the entire team was fired up. Jeremiah Castille was almost ready to put his hand through the wall!”
Alabama’s defensive front kept Illinois in check all night, and a Robbie Jones interception sealed the 21-17 victory. As the final seconds ticked off of the clock, the Alabama players surrounded Coach Bryant and escorted him off the field for the final time.
“Coach Bryant motivated by making players not want to disappoint him,” said Gilmer. “One day at practice, he asked me about the length of my hair. He told me to get a haircut, to go see Joel (Bryant’s barber) and take care of it.”
When Gilmer returned to practice sporting his new haircut, Coach Bryant came by and told him, “Your daddy would be proud of you!”
“Coach Bryant was like a father to his players,” said Gilmer.
Gilmer’s most memorable game during the Ray Perkins’ era in the 1985 Iron Bowl.
“This was my best season,” he said. “We were 9-2-1, and I only gave up one sack.”
Alabama came from behind during the last minute of the game to win on a Van Tiffin field goal as time ran out.
“Greg Richardson caught a pass and made an unbelievable play to get out of bounds,” said Gilmer.
The field goal unit was hurried onto the field, and Gilmer was sitting down trying to catch his breath.
“I stood up and watched the Tiffin kick sail through the uprights with no time left on the clock!”