A reserve defensive back for the Auburn Tigers, money was tight for the walk-on from Florence. Murray State, a Division I-AA college, was offering a full ride and there were likely others who would do the same thing if he had looked around.
"I just felt like I put a lot of hard work into Auburn and Auburn has been a home to me," Gilbert told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "The coaches have been good to me and I really want to be here.
"I put it in my mind that I was going to do everything I could to do to be here. I went and talked to some people. Things look good for me. I prayed about it and I went to my team chaplain, Chette (Williams). He helped me out and everything just worked out real well for me."
Even when it looked like his request for a student loan was not going to be approved, Gilbert decided to take a chance and stay with his teammates. "I just left the decision in God's hands," he says. "What I am going to do is do the best I can to help my teammates and Auburn. This is where I want to be--no doubt about it."
Just as classes began last August, Gilbert got good news that he was approved for a student loan he needed to be able to afford to enroll for another semester. That sent him scrambling to get his classes in order, something very high on the priority list for the public administration major.
Just as classes began this August, the cornerback got even better news from head coach Tommy Tuberville and his position coach, Will Muschamp, that he will be on scholarship this season.
"It's amazing how God works," says Gilbert, who has helped pay his own way through college working part-time. "I was so close to leaving last year. My teammates, my friends and my coaches were telling me to stay. I stayed and worked hard and Coach Tubs (Tommy Tuberville) rewarded me with a scholarship."
Zach Gilbert is shown in game action last season. He has seen action in 22 college games as a backup cornerback and special teams performer.
Gilbert says he found out about the scholarship at practice. Muschamp barked at the junior defensive back to come to the center of the team's post-practice huddle. The defensive back notes his mind was racing, wondering if he had done something wrong. However, that wasn't the case. "Coach Muschamp said, ‘When you work hard like this guy, you get rewarded with a scholarship.' It was just a big relief...I couldn't believe it. My mind wasn't even on getting a scholarship.I was just trying to work hard to get on the field to help out the team."
Muschamp notes that he enjoyed giving Gilbert the news. "Zach is a great example of the student-athlete," Muschamp says. "He paid his own way and worked himself into the lineup. He has played a lot throughout his career. What a wonderful person he is. He works hard every day and is very coachable in everything you try to have him to do. He has maximized his ability to put himself in a great position to play for Auburn.
"Right now he is our starting nickel (fifth defensive back) until he gets beat out. The way that kid is I don't know if that will happen. He gets after it every day. He brings his lunch pail to work and is a kid I love coaching."
Gilbert, who is 5-10, 183 pounds, is shown in a pass coverage drill at practice earlier this month.
Gilbert notes that he has a brother who attends Auburn and a sister going to school in his hometown of Florence at the University of North Alabama. "It was real tough from semester to semester," he says. "I had to find out ways to get money."
He says that when he called home to tell his family the news, his family was thrilled. "My daddy said, ‘Have you got those book vouchers yet?'" The defensive back assured his father he had done that with glee after working part-time jobs to help pay for college.
Muschamp says he is excited about having Gilbert playing in his secondary. "I go to bed at night feeling good about Zach Gilbert playing for me and surviving my mortgage."