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Robinson's Gilmore wants to finish job

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 02:00 AM
TAMPA -

Robinson quarterback Zain Gilmore sees the number on his chest in the mirror – 6 – and it stops him.

"I start thinking so many things," Gilmore said. "I think about my father (Zain Gilmore Sr.) and how great he was when he wore the number (in 1997 when he was named Mr. Florida Football, given to the state's top player).

"It's a very strong feeling."

It reaches back those 15 years to the lunch room at Robinson High. That's where the senior Gilmore, who finished the '97 season with 2,322 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, stood next to then-Knights coach Bud Hodgens, who held up the No. 6 jersey to a cheering crowd of several hundred.

Hodgens told everyone to take a good look at the jersey, because no one would ever wear it again. He said the only way you could see it was in the school's lobby, where it would hang framed behind a pane of glass. "This number," Hodgens announced, "is officially retired."

Wouldn't be the first time Hodgens was wrong.

In the summer of 2012, after transferring to Robinson from Blake, Gilmore's son — Zain Gilmore — requested No. 6.

With his father's blessing, the son slipped on the jersey and his father said with his familiar, low, jazzy chuckle: "Now what are you going to do?"

What, indeed?

So far, Zain Gilmore has been everything his dad and Robinson High could have asked for.

Gilmore's statistics are solid — 78 completions in 152 attempts for 907 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions, and 82 carries for 697 yards and 10 touchdowns — and his leadership has been outstanding.

"He leads by example," said Robinson coach Mike DePue, who coached the elder Gilmore as an assistant. "He has been a complete pleasure to coach."

Tonight, in a second-round Class 5A playoff game against Lakewood, Gilmore said he will act a lot like his father, who never got nervous as much as intense. Gilmore added that he knows Lakewood will be out for revenge after losing its only game this season to Robinson, 19-8 in Week 8.

Gilmore's father said it was about time to give his favorite speech on adversity.

"I tell (Zain Jr.) 'You will have adversity, and the question is how are you going to handle that adversity?' " said the senior Gilmore, who went on to play for the University of Missouri, where among other things he set a single-game record with 45 carries in a 34-7 victory over Texas Tech in 1999. "I tell him, you'll show what you're made of with how you handle that adversity."

Along the way, the elder Gilmore said he may remind his son of how in 1997 his Robinson team overcame tremendous odds by traveling to nationally-ranked Bartow and beating them in a playoff game and then moving on to Haines City and beating them.

Zain Sr. might repeat how his Knights, affectionately nicknamed "The Men in Black," finally ended that run in a state quarterfinal loss at Belle Glade, 35-16, in an extremely hostile environment. Zain Sr. remembers walking off at halftime with a 16-14 lead, only to have Belle Glade fans throw chicken bones at them and yell, "There's only one way out of here."

The younger Gilmore said it's OK if he hears the stories again, "because they're great stories."

"Dad also challenges me with the stories, with what he and 'The Men and Black' did," said Zain Jr., who was a toddler when his dad was running through the state playoffs. "I know he wants me to finish what 'The Men In Black' started.

"And it's what I want. I want it very much."

That means winning a state title, which is not out of the realm of possibility, because, as dad admits, this may be the best Robinson team ever.

Regrets? None, Zain Jr. says.

He was fine playing for Blake the previous two years, but he was happy when his family moved into an apartment in Robinson's district for his senior year.

The pull toward Robinson had been there for a while, but it pulled harder after the man he called "Uncle Des" was killed in the summer of 2011.

"Uncle Des" was Desmond Allison, a Robinson football and basketball legend, who went on to play for the University of Kentucky after averaging a triple-double (including more than 30 points a game in high school). Allison was also one of the famous 'Men In Black,' but most importantly he was a life-long friend to his father and one of Zain Jr.'s favorite people.

"He used to play catch with me when I was little," Zain Jr. said. "He talked to me all the time."

Zain Sr. remembers one day when "Uncle Des" and his son were playing catch and Allison said, "He's not going to be a running back, he's going to be a quarterback."

"Looks like Des was right," Zain Sr. said.

When Allison was shot dead in a domestic dispute in Ohio, Zain Jr. said the call to go to Robinson resounded.

"I wanted to come to Robinson and wear No. 6 in honor of my dad and Des," Zain Jr. said. "I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do.

"It feels right. It feels good."

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