MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) It's a fall practice at Kansas State. Now's the time to stand out. To show you can make it.
"I been always like been an underdog all my life." KSU running back James Gilbert said. "So I always had to prove people wrong."
James Gilbert has a little extra to prove.
"I love football a lot. Enough to play a fifth year in college." Gilbert said.
KSU running back James Gilbert has had a tough journey to Manhattan. He never thought he'd have the opportunity to suit up at a Power 5 school. When kick-off comes, it'll be a special moment for Gilbert.
Back at high school in Indianapolis, Gilbert was a stand out player. He rushed for almost 5,000 yards.
“I was just always a hard worker. I'm coach always, like he seen something in me, even if I didn't see that myself early on.” Gilbert said.
Statistics like that would be plenty good enough to prove your ability to top tier colleges, but the bigger colleges didn't call. Gilbert saw another opportunity to shine.
“I just went with the first school that wanted me for what I could do” Gilbert said.
Ball State University was Gilbert's chance to show what the Power 5 schools over looked.
“Those schools don't look at me or offer me a scholarship." Gilbert said. "It was just like, all right, I'm getting my opportunity to prove myself that I can play. I can play against that, those competition on that level any day, weekend and week out."
Gilbert showed he belonged immediately. In his first two collegiate seasons, he rushed for about 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, as quickly as he rocketed to success, it came crashing down.
“I was running a ball outside zone play." Gilbert said. "I saw a defender. I put a stiff arm out there, but he got caught in the guy's face masks
“And then I rolled over, they tried to help me up and I was like, no, something's wrong. Something's wrong. Took my glove off. My thumb was just like dangling around like I tore some ligaments”
The injury took Gilbert's junior season and his ability to do simple tasks.
“I couldn't grip a football. I couldn't block, I couldn't catch a ball. I couldn't do anything.” Gilbert said. “It also prepared me just to just don't take this game for granted.
Gilbert eventually made his return to form his senior season. After that, he got a phone call he thought he'd never get.
“So it was a Fargo number at first. I'm like, who is this calling me?” Gilbert said. “He's like, it's Chris Klieman. I'm about to be the new head coach at Kansas state. And I was like, wow.
Coach Klieman said he was recruiting running backs to come to KSU.
"I said I'm 110% and then sent the paperwork over." Gilbert said. "I signed it and the rest is history. I'm here now."
Finally, Gilbert's got his chance in purple and silver.
“Whatever I gotta do, I'm going to get the job done. And you can count on 34 every time.”