By Nate Thompson
NORTON SHORES – There’s an old cliche used by coaches when an injury or unfortunate situation takes a star player out the lineup:
Next man up.
Most of the time, it’s wishful thinking that someone else can step up and fill the shoes of the standout. But occasionally those players-in-waiting seize the opportunity and becomes stars in their own right.
Mona Shores senior James Gilbert is one of those rare players, in football and basketball.
When the Sailors’ standout senior Damari Roberson suffered a second season-ending torn ACL injury during summer football drills, it elevated Gilbert to No. 1 receiver, and made him a crucial member of the defensive secondary.
He didn’t disappoint.
“Coach (Matt Koziak) said I gotta be the guy,” Gilbert recalled. “I’d have to put everything into it and not take any plays off or take it easy during practice.”
The quarterback-receiver duo of Caden Broersma and Gilbert worked wonders together throughout the football season. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Gilbert hauled in 61 catches for 1,466 yards and 15 touchdowns in an eye-popping, All-State season. The total receiving yards set a single-season school record at Mona shores.
He also excelled in the secondary as a defensive back, helping the Sailors post a great season that extended all the way to the Division 2 state finals.
“I was pretty fortunate to have Caden at quarterback,” Gilbert said. “He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever played with. He’s so big and lanky and he’s got a great arm. He can throw the ball really far. He brought so much energy to our offense.”
About a week after the Sailors suffered a 29-16 setback in the state championship game to Warren DeLaSalle, Gilbert shifted his attention to basketball, where he knew he’d again have to take on a new, elevated role on the team.
Before school started in August, Gilbert learned that former teammate Jarvis Walker had decided to transfer to play for the Sailors’ rival, Muskegon. Walker led the Sailors in scoring a year ago with 22 points per game as a sophomore.
“It was shocking at the time, but it’s something that you’ve just got to roll with,” Gilbert said. “He’s doing what he thought was best for him, so you can’t focus on it as a negative.”
Under the leadership of new coach David Chana, Gilbert has helped ease the sting of Walker’s departure.
He’s been tremendous, averaging 21.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, nearly three assists and two steals per game. Chana followed the success of the football team closely during the fall, so he knew first-hand the tremendous athleticism Gilbert brought to the equation.
“James has got a motor that’s always on go,” Chana said. “He goes hard all the time. He’s a great kid off the court, he’s fun to be around. He’s definitely rose to the occasion for us.”
While the Sailors go into Friday’s game against Reeths-Puffer with a 2-5 record (several of their losses have been close), there’s no doubt that the team would be in far worse shape without Gilbert’s contributions.
“Coach has tried getting us to focus on eliminating one negative play per quarter,” Gilbert said. “If we start with that, it’s going to be good for us as the season goes on.”
With so much talent in two sports, Gilbert should pave plenty of options when it comes to college athletic scholarships.
Although he was offered a football scholarship by Saginaw Valley State University, Gilbert said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach on his future. Specifically, he’s hoping an ideal scholarship offer opens up in basketball, which was his first love growing up.
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” he said. “Basketball has always been my favorite. My first year playing in sixth grade, I just fell in love with it. I’d watch my older brothers playing pickup basketball and I’d take what they did and try it on my own.”