The transfers of quarterback McKenzie Milton and defensive end Jermaine Johnson to FSU may have made for sexier headlines this off-season but offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons’ decision to finish his career with the Seminoles could be the most important addition to Mike Norvell’s 2021 roster.
The ability to protect the passer is the biggest question facing FSU’s offense heading into the fall. The Seminoles’ struggles in this department is no secret and their performance this spring in pass protection still showed how much they have to go. Adding Gibbons to the mix and more than likely into a starting role was done to help address this issue as well as to sustain and continue the unit’s improvement in the run game.
On Wednesday, the Notre Dame transfer met with FSU beat writers to take questions on a variety of issues, including why he landed in Tallahassee to finish his last two year of eligibility.
“I think I woke up a day after the spring game up at Notre Dame,” started Gibbons. “I was wondering what was keeping me at Notre Dame for my fifth, and potentially sixth year. I had some meetings and things. I didn’t necessarily get the answers out of some coaches about the perspectives of my future. So I went ahead, and I was thinking about schools. A lot of schools tried to recruit guys out of the transfer portal. I went ahead and made my decision before I got recruited by a single school.”
According to the 6-foot-4 and 309-pound redshirt junior from Clearwater Central Catholic there was never a question about where he would finish his career.
“I wanted to be back in the state of Florida,” continued Gibbons. “And the only school I even considered was FSU, because when I was a kid I was a big fan of FSU. And the proximity to home. And it being one of the major Florida schools I really appreciated. I was also looking for a school where I could also get into the MBA program, and a school that would have me for a fifth and sixth year. So Florida State fit all that criteria. I was contacted by, I don’t know, 75-plus coaches. I’m sure you guys can imagine, it was like being recruited all over again. Once Florida State did reach out to me, I reached out to them and told them what my intentions were. And if they’d have me.”
Gibbons is also excited to have the opportunity to have not only a significant impact on FSU’s offensive line but also on the direction of one of the most storied football programs over the last 50 years of college football.
“At Notre Dame, when I was the sixth man, there’s a lot asked from the sixth guy on the offensive line,” said Gibbons. “I had to have the ability to step in at every position. I had to know what everyone was doing, what everyone’s game plan was for that week. So if you think about it, I was cooking for a while. Having the opportunity to step into a program and radically change the culture of the offensive line is something I was waiting for. Whether that had been my fifth year or potentially sixth year at Notre Dame. What was guaranteed to me was coming to Florida State and making a radical impact. So those are my intentions. I’m putting my best foot forward in every aspect here at FSU and I’m just trying to do my best.”
Having his family being able to see him in action at every single home game also played to FSU’s advantage and simplified Gibbons decision.
“It’s actually one of the main reasons why I did transfer to Florida State,” said Gibbons. “Having my family at games means the world to me. It costs my family a lot of money to get to South Bend every weekend for all the home games. We were lucky enough to have a house up there because my brother went to law school at Notre Dame. At the same time, it was financially pretty tough to get up there. Another part of it, too, is my grandpa had multiple open-heart surgeries the past four years. He can’t fly. It’s one of the things he’s been struggling with for six years now, so he’s never been able to see me play college football. Being closer to home for my last two seasons, I’ll be able to have the whole family there with my grandpa.”
Gibbons also spoke of the dynamics of his new FSU family and the makeup of his new offensive line mates.
“It’s a very interesting mix of guys,” said Gibbons, who saw action in 29 games with the Irish over three seasons. “I think all the players that are Florida State through and through, and have been here for four years or a few years at least who’ve been recruited out of high school, are all very accepting of guys like me and Devontay Love-Taylor and guys who are coming here and making an actual impact on the team.”
Milton, who Gibbons was brought in to help protect, has already made a significant impression because of his comeback from a serious and life-threatening leg injury and what he has seen from the signal-caller his first month on-campus.
“He’s a very hard-working guy,” said Gibbons of Milton. “He’s an amazing story. One of the most storied guys I know. I feel like I’ve been through injuries and things in my life, but he’s gone through that ten-fold. I’m always in there getting rehab, getting extra work in the weight room. He’s one of those guys that’s here as soon as I get here in the morning. So if I’m the first guy or he’s the first guy, we’re there at the same time. He works very hard. Again, he’s still climbing. He loves to learn. A leader. It’s kind of odd to see that dynamic in the quarterback room, but he’s a natural-born leader the way he talks to people, the way he interacts. He definitely holds himself to a high standard.”
Gibbons has made an impact with his teammates, coaches, fans and really anyone that follows college football in even a casual way with his initial use of the NIL. It has become a national story and one that shows you a lot about who Gibbons is as a person. On July 1, Gibbons started a GoFundMe page for Notre Dame fan Timothy Donovan, who was born with VACTERL, a nonrandom association of birth defects that affects multiple anatomical structures. The goal of the GoFundMe page was to make sure that Donovan, who was befriended by Gibbons in 2017 during his playing time in South Bend, can make it to the season opener in Tallahassee when he faces off against his former team.
That question has been answered: Gibbons has surpassed the needed funds to get Donovan and his family to Tallahassee by miles. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $47,000 dollars have been raised by Gibbons’ efforts. Not only will the funds go to cover Donovan’s trips but will now help his family as well.
“Once I met him and built a connection with him I made a very distinct decision in my life to engage with him,” said Gibbons of Donovan and the GoFundMe page. “And not just have a one-off relationship … I want to do as much as I possibly could. Before the last couple months I wasn’t allowed to do anything among the lines of a GoFundMe or anything like that. So most of the things I gave him were my time, a connection, having a person to talk to. Once I started hearing things about name and likeness from major media sources probably a year ago, and I just started hearing that it could happen in my college career. So I mapped out a game plan at one of my strategic business classes at Notre Dame of how I could actually raise the money for his family. Initially it started as just trying to get him to the game. But as everyone has seen here, it’s blossomed into something else. It’s making a radical impact on him and his family’s life.”
The success of the page has left Gibbons overwhelmed by the generosity of FSU and college football fans alike.
“It started getting some slow momentum,” said Gibbons. “The FSU fan base and media sources all picked it up. It wasn’t until the weekend when Notre Dame picked it up and started running with it, and I was actually driving back home, which is something I haven’t done in my four years given that I’ve been up in South Bend for a while.
“I was in the car when it started getting more and more momentum. I actually had to pull over because I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t even think or drive. I never had an experience like that in my whole life. Once I pulled over, I’m glad I pulled over, because the brand Super Coffee donated $15,000 after I pulled over. I probably would’ve had a serious accident if I heard that news when I was driving. I’m completely overwhelmed, my family is overwhelmed. The Donovan family can’t even see straight. They’re very excited about it, but they still have a lot of things going on in Timothy’s life. They had to pause their efforts in the campaign. Mrs. Donovan has been reading every single comment on Twitter, whether it’s GoFundMe, Twitter, Instagram, she’s been informing Timothy of everything.”
Donovan recently had back surgery which corrected the bend in his spine from 90 degrees to 40 degrees but he is currently struggling with pneumonia in the post-operative process. Gibbons is hoping he makes his friends trip to Tallahassee one that he will not forget.
“My plan for his day is a day in the sun,” said Gibbons. “Make it like an official visit. Everything that we give to one of those five-star recruits rolling through the program, I’d like him to experience. At the end of the day, my goal is try to get as far as I can up the chain at FSU, to get him out on the field at some point during the game. Because, again, the whole point of this initiative is to get him his day in the sun. And really the sky is the limit for that. Use your imagination. Whatever you guys see fit, just give me some advice, people to talk to or things I should try to achieve because it is difficult doing it by myself. But luckily I have you guys and the rest of the FSU community to lean on.”