Gilbert brought fun, winning to Whitehall
When Brian Gilbert was hired early in 2012 as Whitehall’s new football coach, he said he wanted to make Zephyr football a combination of fun and winning.
He succeeded on both counts, going 48-23 over six seasons. His .676 winning percentage over that span ranks him just behind Andy Melosky (. 690) among Whitehall’s head coaching fraternity.
The fun came along with all that success as they were able to hoist two district trophies during his tenure. They also shared a Lehigh Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference crown in 2012 and 2013.
Last week Gilbert announced his resignation. He’ll be leaving to take become Palisades High School’s Athletic Director. His familiarity with the program, having coached the Pirates football team for nine season before arriving at Whitehall, proved to be a strong contributing factor in luring him away from the Zephyrs.
Gilbert credited his predecessor, Tony Trisciani, for handing off a program to him that was on an upward trajectory. Gilbert had been the team’s offensive coordinator, and he inherited a squad that had scored 457 points the previous year.
His offenses have ranked among the most prolific in the school’s history, owning the No. 2 spot with 448 points (shared by the 2014 and 2016 squads). Two of his other squads (2012, 2013) have also appeared among the top-ten in scoring.
“Tony had the program established, and I wanted to keep that going when I took over,” said Gilbert. “I was lucky to have great assistant coaches over the years and we’ve been very successful.”
He said that the program’s in good shape and foresees a bright future ahead for them.
“I’m hopeful that they keep it going,” said Gilbert.
He said that players and coaches come and go all the time in high school football, and that no one individual is bigger than the program. That holds true for the head coach as well.
Gilbert said that once the vacancy opened at Palisades, it became a tough decision, but it was ultimately the right opportunity.
“I left for one job, and one job only,” said Gilbert. “I told the team, that in my professional career I wanted to be the head football coach at Whitehall and the A.D. at Palisades. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do both of these.”
While the football season consumed a lot of his time, with Friday nights culminating in all that hard work and preparation that went into every game, Gilbert said that what he’ll miss the most is the offseason. That’s where relationships were formed as he witnessed the growth of his players.
“I’m going to miss the time and relationships with the players, and just the time I spent with the players in the offseason, watching the development of a junior varsity player into a varsity player,” said Gilbert.
Those offseasons included a number of activities and events, many of which Whitehall dominated. They were multiple champs at The Battle of the Hogs, The Blue Bomber Invitational, a power lifting competition, Lehigh University’s 7-on-7 passing camps, and the Rutgers passing camp. The highlight of those offseason activities was their win at Penn State’s passing camp in 2016.
They also went to Florida one summer, playing against Haines City High School in 2014, lining up against future 2018 NFL first-round pick, Derwin James.
“We had a lot of fun in those offseasons,” said Gilbert “That’s what it’s all about. It was the true enjoyment of working with these kids day in and day out.”
He also got to coach his son, Zachary, who helped deliver Whitehall’s first district title in 27 years as the team’s signal caller in 2016. He’s also the single-season passing leader, throwing for 2,281 yards in 2016, as well as being first in total passing touchdowns with 32.
“That was a big highlight of my career,” said Gilbert.
Zach Gilbert was one of a number of Zephyrs during his leadership that broke school records. Among that cast of prolific offensive performers was Dez Boykin who holds the single season, and career, receiving marks, and Saquon Barkley who established marks in single-season rushing, career rushing, and touchdowns.
“We had some great records we were able to break, that’s for sure,” said Gilbert.
Gilbert was instrumental in helping foster Barkley’s career. He took the talented back to a Rutger’s football camp the summer of his junior year where he got some notice, ultimately landing a scholarship offer from the Scarlett Knights based on his performance that trip. Barkley eventually committed to Penn State where he became a dynamic running back and one of the best players in the nation, winding up as the second pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Through it all, Gilbert said that none of it would have been possible without great assistant coaches, many of whom were gathered at a draft party to watch Barkley get selected.
“What a great moment that was,” said Gilbert. “It couldn’t have been a more prouder moment. That was awesome.”
He said that the friendships he forged at Whitehall, especially with his coaching staff, will always remain what he’ll cherish the most. He said that they have become his best friends and he’ll miss the camaraderie.
However, he’ll remain connected to Whitehall as a fan and a father. His son, Luke, a three-sport athlete, will be starting his sophomore season at Whitehall. Gilbert said he hopes to attend as many of his son’s games as his schedule permits.
“I’ll always be very supportive of him and Whitehall,” said Gilbert.