WILTON — Matt Gulbin remembers his first start for the Wilton football team, in last year’s season opener against Brien McMahon.
“It was kind of scary because I came from freshmen football straight to varsity, but the upperclassmen were really good to me, and the rest of my teammates and they really helped me adjust to the level of play,” Gulbin recalled. “It was a pretty easy transition because of that.”
Metoric might be a better word. Gulbin ended up as the lone sophomore to earn All-FCIAC honors, using his 6-4, 280-pound frame to dominate opposing defensive linemen.
“I wouldn’t say surprised because I knew how hard I worked and how hard my coaches pushed me,” Gulbin said of the honor. “It was just a testament to their dedication.”
Gulbin uses the first person less often than he misses blocks. Any talk about individual success inevitably leads to praise for his teammates or coaches.
“I was with my teammates since August so I knew what I had to do because of them,” Gulbin said about last season. “My coaches prepared me well for the game. It wasn’t too intimidating.”
One person not surprised by Gulbin’s accelerated development is EJ DiNunzio, who was his freshman coach before taking over the Warriors’ head position after Bruce Cunningham stepped down.
“He was a center and played defensive tackle for me,” DiNunzio said. “I actually told Bruce Cunningham after the season this kid will help you as a sophomore. He’s very talented and extremely strong and he’s got the desire to be a varsity football player and do that right now. It was definitely not a shock to me. What was a shock is how quickly he has developed into that top caliber player.”
There was not much memorable about the Warriors’ 47-0 loss to St. Joseph in the fourth game of the season. They were hobbled and lost key playmaker Drew Phillips to injury. But Gulbin said it stood out because it was a personal turning point.
“We had a really good gameplan and the coaches and my teammates prepared me really well for the game,” Gulbin said. “It wasn’t a really good game for us. We had a lot of injuries and Drew got hurt that game. It was not pretty but for me it was telling that I could play at this level and my team had prepared me for this level and I was going to do whatever I could to win games.”
Wilton finished with a 6-4 record and Gulbin, an unknown at the start of the season, was a familar name just two and one half months later.
Gulbin said that has spurred his offseason workouts.
“I think I’ve trained a little differently,” Gulbin said. “I’ve tried to focus on flexibility and the same old stuff, getting faster and stronger. Sticking in the weight room, lifting with the team. I’ve been to a couple of camps and they were really helpful to learn some new techniques and bring them back to the team.”
DiNunzio said there was no chance Gulbin’s work ethic would change. It has remained a constant.
“He’s the first kid in the weight room, the last kid out of the weight room,” DiNunzio said. “The first kid on the football field running sprints in the summer. He’s studying film every single day. There’s nothing he doesn’t do to make himself a better football player. He’s basically a throwback. It’s just football and football 100 percent of the time. And he’s dedicated. It shows on the field.”
Gulbin played right guard last season. Though that is his preferred position, DiNunzio said it is possible he may be moved to tackle or center at times to create situational advantages.
Though this is the so-called dead period, before conditioning starts, for Gulbin there is no such thing.
“I’ve been making sure I know what I’m doing, going over the playbook, watching film, whatever I can do to better myself for the season. Getting ready for Fitch,” said Gulbin, referring to Wilton’s season-opening opponent.
Gulbin said the offensive linemen have been bonding in anticipation of the start of training camp.
“Our motto is ‘Earn It.’ Everything has to be earned this year,” Gulbin said. “We are working hard.”
Gulbin unsurprisingly has started to draw the attention of colleges, but he said the future is not part of his thought process.
“Right now I’m just focused on the season and helping my team win football games,” Gulbin said. “That’s it.”