(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. We’ve wrapped up the defense, also profiling the defensive linemen and linebackers, and started the offense with the offensive linemen. Now, we feature the tight ends.)
No. 2 tight end – Mark Gilman, Kalispell Flathead
Though basketball was his first love, Mark Gilman had bigger football opportunities. The former Kalispell Flathead Brave opted to play for Tom Osborne at Nebraska, where he won two national championships.
Mark Gilman stat sheet
Gilman, who graduated from Kalispell Flathead in 1991, is one of the best all-around athletes in Montana history. He has the school records in the shot put (60 feet, 3 inches) and discus (186-02), three of the school’s top 15 scoring seasons in basketball, and earned all-state honors at multiple positions in football. Gilman’s favorite was and still is basketball, where he was a four-year starter and three-time all-state forward for the Braves. On the gridiron, he was an all-state receiver his sophomore and junior seasons before spending his senior year playing quarterback.
As much as Gilman loved basketball, football was his future. He was recruited by the likes of Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Nebraska, ultimately playing for Tom Osborne and the Cornhuskers during a magical run in the mid-1990s. Gilman was primarily a blocking tight end, earning four letters from 1992-95. He started five games during the Huskers’ undefeated 1994 season, catching 17 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown. As a team, Nebraska completed just 120 passes that season as running back Lawrence Phillips rushed for more than 1,700 yards. Gilman caught a 19-yard touchdown in Nebraska’s 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. As a senior, he was voted a team captain. He caught 16 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown as the Huskers again posted a perfect record, defeating Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl for their second consecutive national title.
Gilman, who signed with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals in 1996, returned home to Montana and lives in Kalispell. His son, Tadan, was an all-state quarterback at Kalispell Glacier is entering his second season as a linebacker at Montana State.
… on Gilman:
Mark Gilman: “I was born to be a coach and a teacher, so my father was a football, basketball, track, shot put and discus his specialty, coach. That was a big part of the Gilman household growing up. From a very early age I participated in all the sports. There was a lot of sports talk at the dinner table, the psychological approach to sports, being mentally ready and prepared, hard work and determination, teamwork, all that stuff. It started from a very early age with my father.
“Basketball was my first love and as time went on, I realized that basketball was not going to allow me to play, what I would consider, maybe on the national stage. Football was something that, I played football and enjoyed football. I was proud to play for the Flathead Braves under coaches Bob Raeth and Dan Hodge. It was something where, I had success at (football) as well (as basketball), but I found it real ironic that the phone calls I was getting, recruitment phone calls, were from major colleges. Nebraska, where I ended up going, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado State, Colorado talked to me a little bit, and Wyoming. Whereas I loved basketball and I felt I was really good at basketball, and I was lucky enough to get offers from Montana and Montana State, which I really appreciated, and some small colleges, as well, but I started leaning toward, ‘I kind of want to try something big.’ It switched to football, not to say that football became my love, I still to this day enjoy basketball more, but I wanted to give the biggest challenge possible and that ended up being going to Nebraska to play football.
“When I went to Nebraska, I still had apprehensions. I was like, ‘Holy cow. I wonder if I can even make it here.’ Then it became apparent, at first it was hard, it was a challenge, but I saw the competition, I saw the other tight ends. I played scout team and was able to handle myself going one-on-one against one of the best defenses in the nation. It kind of hit me early on that, ‘I can do this.’ I had a ton of improvement I had to do. Obviously, I was very raw, but I could tell off the bat I could do it. It was just, ‘Was I willing to step up and put the work in and improve myself mentally and physically to excel at that level?’ I could tell right away I had a chance, I just had to cultivate it.
“I questioned myself early on, the first couple days. The thing that stood out about Nebraska, and I was warned about this, but I didn’t listen, we get there and the first couple weeks it was just the freshmen. I was all excited because there was only myself and one other tight end, so I was like, ‘This is great. I don’t have a ton of competition,’ and I felt like I probably had more skills than this other individual, but then the varsity reported and I was sitting in the receiver room looking around, I’m seeing a lot of pretty large receivers, tight ends, that looked just like myself. I came to realize there were 14 tight ends. During the recruiting process I only heard about four of them and they were all juniors. Not so true. It really hit me, ‘I’m really going to have to work hard. I’m really going to have to figure this out and figure it out quick, because every one of these guys are good and I have to separate myself somehow.’ That’s the thing, I’ll never forget it. Fourteen other tight ends.
“It’s amazing to me, when I look back at it, that I even went to Nebraska. It still catches me off-guard when I think about the story, because I told you, I was more of a basketball player. I have often sat back and just been amazed and thought how lucky I was to have perfect timing of all the colleges that I could have chose, I actually chose Nebraska, and they figured it out for about three to five years there. And I was part of it. It just blows my mind. I like to say that I had something to do with it. I did basically start two years and I was voted team captain and lifter of the year, which is a prestigious award there, so I feel like I had something to do with it, but obviously it takes so many people to get it done. It has to be almost perfect – from coaches to injuries to players’ attitudes to teamwork to sacrifice to hard workers. I’m so appreciative and it brings a smile to my face that I actually was part of that. I actually still can’t believe it. I smile every day. I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow. That was great.’ I’m good now, in my life, as far as sports went, I’m very, very satisfied. There’s still kind of some disbelief. It’s amazing.”