After weeks of uncertainty to end the summer followed by months of frustration, Matt Gulbin finally gets a well-deserved senior highlight. On Wednesday the Wilton lineman will sign his National Letter of Intent to play football next year at Wake Forest.
It will be a time to celebrate, Gulbin’s first victory, even if it has been marked on the calendar for a while, since the Warriors ended a 24-year drought last November and qualified for the state playoffs.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Gulbin said. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life. It’s pretty crazy to be doing it officially.”
Gulbin, a 6-4, 290-pound guard, was a star from the moment he arrived at Wilton and will leave as one of the best players in school history. EJ DiNunzio was the freshmen coach when Gulbin first flashed his potential, then got elevated to the head position the following year.
“He’s always been one of those kids who is all about the program,” DiNunzio said. “It’s not about him.”
DiNunzio said on the very few occasions where Gulbin made a mistake, it was almost always due to coming to the aid of another lineman.
“He helped get us into the playoffs, where unfortunately we ran into St. Joe’s,” said DiNunzio, referring to last year’s Class L quarterfinal loss to the eventual No. 1 team in the state. “At least we got there. It was a nice taste to have. That’s why he wanted to get back this year and go further.”
Gulbin is one of the rare stars who stands out more for who he is than what he can do. During the frenzied days of late August and early September, when emotions ran high about whether there would be a football season, Gulbin’s was a voice of measured reason. There was a segment of parents who could have learned from him by listening instead of screaming.
“To be honest it was pretty difficult,” Gulbin said. “Me and the rest of my teammates, especially the senior class, we didn’t have the opportunity to go out in the way we wanted to, in the way we always dreamed of. It was tough. It was weird not having a season in the fall. A little unsettling. It could have been worse.”
Gulbin has always been able to find water where others saw an empty glass, even if it was not always half full.
While the Warriors competed in a 7 on 7 season, Gulbin and some of his teammates took part in a few linemen challenges, but that was even farther away from real football than the passing competitions.
It got to the point that after school, when during normal times Gulbin would be practicing with the Warriors, he could instead be found working out with his trainer.
“It was not the same as playing with all my friends,” Gulbin conceded.
Gulbin is no different than the general population that has been forced to make sacrifices over the past eight months.
“I learned really that, I always knew that I loved football, but I feel like you never know how much you love something until it’s taken away from you, and in this case it’s really amplified,” Gulbin said. “I definitely have a bigger appreciation for football and I know that in the future I can’t take anything for granted. It could be taken away.”
Something that cannot be taken away from Gulbin is the many memories, even if the biggest ones took place a year ago.
“Getting into the state playoffs was huge,” Gulbin said. “When Coach DiNunzio told us that for the first time in 20-plus years we made the state playoffs it was pretty special. We were hoping this year we would make the state playoffs and go further than the first round. There is so much I can think of. It’s really just an honor to play for Wilton football. It’s such a great town and Friday nights and playing for the name on your chest and all the great people that live in this town. You can get a great education at Wilton High. Wilton is a really good place to grow up.”
The citizens of Wilton no doubt feel the same about him, because Gulbin represents the very best of them, both on and off the field. He will graduate early, at the end of next month, then head to Wake Forest to work out with the team and get ready for spring ball.
DiNunzio said that Gulbin will soon be gone but never forgotten. With his closing thought, the coach could have been speaking for the entire Warrior program, all of Wilton.
“I hate to see him go,” DiNunzio said, “but I’m going to love watching him on Saturdays.”