Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman, who played one season at Navy, drafted by Chargers
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: April 27, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — There were a lot of doubters when Alohi Gilman announced he was transferring from Navy to Notre Dame.
Sure, the Hawaii native enjoyed a sensational freshman season with the Navy football team, earning Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors. However, many observers questioned whether the 5-foot-10, 202-pound safety was capable of playing for the Fighting Irish.
Gilman proved the skeptics way wrong, starting 26 games over two seasons at Notre Dame and recording 169 tackles. He also had six forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and three interceptions.
On Saturday, Gilman was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the sixth round (186th overall) of the NFL Draft. He had impressed scouts at the NFL Combine by running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, bench pressing 225 pounds for 17 repetitions and posting a vertical leap of 32 inches.
Gilman is a native of Laie, Hawaii, the same hometown as Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. That connection was a big reason why the Kahuku High graduate chose Navy over service academy rival Air Force as well as Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, Utah and Utah State.
Gilman spent the 2015-2016 academic year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island then made an immediate impact upon arrival in Annapolis. He earned the start at right cornerback in just the second game of the 2016 season before ultimately settling in as the starting free safety.
Gilman was fantastic as a freshman for the Midshipmen, playing in all 14 games with 12 starts and ranking second on the team with 76 tackles (50 solo). He also recorded five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries en route to earning honorable mention All-American Athletic Conference.
One of Gilman’s best games in a Navy uniform came against Notre Dame on Nov. 5 at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. He was all over the field in leading the Mids with 12 tackles, a performance that left a lasting impression on Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
"In terms of his football fit, we got a good look at Alohi against us last season. He plays the style of safety we want in this program. Alohi’s a run-and-hit safety that fits perfectly in the Mike Elko defense,” Kelly said in a press release announcing Gilman’s signing.
Gilman confirmed he was leaving the Naval Academy on June 1, 2017 and nine days later announced he had accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame. At the time, Niumatalolo said the youngster made the decision because he dreamed of playing in the National Football League.
The Department of Defense had recently announced that service academy graduates must serve at least two years of active duty before applying for a waiver to play professional sports. That reversed a previous order that had allowed Navy standouts Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain to try out for the NFL immediately after graduation.
Reynolds would spend three seasons in the NFL, mostly on the practice squads of the Baltimore Ravens (2016), Washington Redskins (2017) and Seattle Seahawks (2018). Swain was ultimately cut by the San Diego Chargers after being signed as a free agent.
As it turns out, the policy was changed again at the behest of President Donald Trump and a new order signed last November by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper once again allows service academy graduates to pursue professional sports prior to serving their mandatory five-year military commitment.
Thanks in part to that ruling, Navy record-setting rusher Malcolm Perry was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Army West Point had three players — linebacker Cole Christiansen, defensive back Elijah Riley and fullback Connor Slomka — sign free agent contracts immediately following the draft.
Christiansen, a two-year captain who made 35 career starts and recorded 112 tackles, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. Riley, a four-year letterman who was invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Slomka, who rushed for 1,208 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last three seasons, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Air Force defensive back Zane Lewis inked a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals after starting 24 of 25 games over the 2018-19 seasons. Lewis recorded 45 total tackles and a team-best 15 pass breakups last season.
Two other Navy seniors, nose guard Jackson Pittman and long snapper Michael Pifer, are still hoping to land free agent contracts.