The following is a Keith Gilbertson Sr. remembrance written by Curt Marsh, the former Snohomish High football star and 1977 SHS grad who went on to play for the Oakland/L.A. Raiders as a first-round NFL draft pick out of the University of Washington.
God gave me the raw physical tools to be successful in athletics. Coach Armstrong, Coach Don James and Coach Tom Flores and their assistants taught me the techniques I needed to become a good football player. But Coach Keith Gilbertson taught me how to get the most out of all of it.
Being a lineman in high school, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with Coach Gilby as a football player because he mostly coached the backs. I actually spent a lot more time with him as a basketball player as he was the assistant to head coach Jack de Kubber and the head JV coach. I did not play much JV basketball because I went straight to the varsity my sophomore year and started at center on and off. However, Gilby would get me on the court early to work my post moves with him. And over the next two seasons, when I was a full-time starter, he continued to have me come out to practice before everyone else just to work my moves. It was then that I really got my first taste of his commitment to us and the drive he had to see his athletes become the best they could be.
That little voice in my head still says, “You can always do one more.”
At the end of my senior year in high school, as I was contemplating going to the University of Washington on scholarship to play football, Coach Gilbertson came to me and said that he would be more than happy to help me prepare for the coming fall training camp of two-a-day practices. The UW had sent me an entire booklet of training routines that were very confusing, as well as a list of physical tests and the benchmarks that each player by position would have to reach in order to practice. I can’t remember them all, but one that sticks out was that backs had to run a mile in under 6 minutes and linemen had to run it in under 6 minutes and 30 seconds. I had never run a mile in my life.
Gilby took the packet, looked it over and said he could and would help us. Chris Utt, our star running back at Snohomish, had gotten a scholarship to Washington State, which had similar testing requirements that were close enough that Gilby said he would work with us together if we wanted. That was the start of a string of summers working with Gilby from the end of my senior year in high school until I finally moved to California year-round in my fifth season with the Raiders.
That first summer Chris and I would meet Gilby after our work day from our summer jobs, and he would put us through the most grueling workouts we had ever experienced that he had orchestrated specifically for us. We would run three days a week and lift three days a week. When I went into the UW I was in better shape than I ever was in my life. I not only passed my tests but killed them. I remember the coaches being shocked that this lineman not only ran a mile under 6:30, but did it in under 6:00.
I did that every summer with him for four years, and by my senior year at the UW I was literally getting in such good shape that I would get out of shape during camp. After coming in my freshman season at 265 pounds and bench pressing just over 300 pounds, by the time I was a senior, I was 285 pounds, bench pressed 425 pounds and ran the mile in 5:28, which was faster than most of the backs were running it in. He had me in such good shape it was unbelievable.
I never could have done that on my own. He had such an incredible ability to demand respect just by the strength of his character and his never-ending commitment to make you better. It just fueled me to want to give him every ounce of effort I could muster.
His real genius was in tailoring workouts that allowed you to make improvement every time you came back. Whether it was one more repetition, or him having you run just a second faster than you did last time, you always knew at the end of the day you were leaving that field or weight room just that much better than when you came. He changed up the workouts as well, to where you never knew exactly what you would be doing that day, and he wouldn’t tell you what you were going to do until the next exercise came. He would kill you every workout, but you’d get better every workout. He would write down every weight, every rep, every lap or sprint and how fast you ran each one, and then he would time the rest intervals. He kept all the information in a notebook, which he would take home to use to tailor the next day’s workout. It was absolutely meticulous.
When you think of him not only doing that for me, but for Chris as well, and then in the next few years for dozens of others all at the same time, not counting his high school athletes, it is nothing short of amazing the amount of time and effort he put into helping us, and never ever asking for anything but our best effort in return.
I got a heck of a lot more out of those workouts than just getting into shape. I learned a lot about what I was truly capable of doing physically. I found that I could always do one more no matter how tired I was. I can’t tell you how many times in those workouts that I literally thought I was going to die, and he would blow that whistle and I just started running because he said to, and I was able to make it.
I have been through so many things in my life since that have seemed incredibly hard, and that little voice in my head still says, “You can always do one more.”
I probably learned the most, though, by just getting to know the great man. We would start every workout with about 20 minutes of stretching, and during that time we would just talk. We did not always talk about sports either. We talked about life and what I was going through at times, and he would tell me things about himself and his life. I can truly say that we started off as a man coaching a young man and ended up as friends that truly cared about one another. I was blessed to have been able to spend so much time with him through the years.
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