It’s a late night on the first of September in Knoxville, Tennessee. Over 100,000 people pack the stands of Neyland Stadium, watching anxiously as the Appalachian State Mountaineers take the ninth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers into overtime.
It’s third-and-goal, and the Vols line up in the shotgun formation. Tennessee senior quarterback Josh Dobbs takes the snap, fakes the handoff and runs around the right side. At first, he looks to pass, but then he sees a hole to run through. There was only one thing that stood in Dobbs’ way: Kennan Gilchrist.
Gilchrist, a senior linebacker for App State, was out in coverage and saw Dobbs approaching.
“The first thing I was thinking was, ‘I see this all the time,’” Gilchrist said. “Everybody, when they try to score, they stick the ball out.”
What Gilchrist did not expect was Dobbs going airborne. He expected for the senior quarterback to attempt a juke or dive to get by. When Dobbs jumped, Gilchrist had one goal: make sure the ball didn’t cross the line.
What happened next could have been the single greatest play in Appalachian State athletic history. The keywords are “could have been.”
Gilchrist launched into Dobbs with enough force to dislodge the ball forward and throw the quarterback backwards.
“I was impressed that Kennan [Gilchrist] was able to get a good shot on the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Nate Woody said. “There had been so many games on film that I had watched Dobbs make people miss against SEC players that are going to play in the NFL.”
After the hit, the crowd gasped. The ball was live in the endzone. A pile of players went for the ball. To the dismay of Gilchrist and the Mountaineers, the Volunteers recovered, scoring what would go on to become the game-winning touchdown.
“It is what it is,” Gilchrist said. “I told my guys after the game that we had no reason to hold our heads down, because, at the end of the day, we gave it all we had. The game of football is all about inches. You can’t get too high and get too low. It was a great hit, but I had to move on from it and be ready for the next game.”
Gilchrist has been ready for all three of Appalachian State’s games this season. He is currently second on the team in tackles with 27, which is 10 more than third place. But aside from statistics, Gilchrist has brought quickness and energy to the defense.
“You have to find something that you’re good at,” Gilchrist said. “At the end of the day, I might not be the hardest hitter on the field. I might not get the most sacks or the most interceptions, but I’m going to make sure that nobody in the country can outrun me.”
Gilchrist said that each and every play, he will give 110 percent.
“When they turn on the film, they say, ‘You’re right. Nobody in the country can do what Kenny Gilchrist does. He’s running from sideline to sideline,’” Gilchrist said.
Woody called Gilchrist a “never-ending ball of energy.” He said that the energy Gilchrist gives off is invaluable because everyone on the defense has to keep playing until the whistle blows. That is something Gilchrist does naturally.
“If you talk about Kennan, everybody would agree that he’s going to give everything he’s got until he falls down on the ground,” Woody said.
While the energy is natural, Gilchrist said it was patience that he had to learn in his first four years as a Mountaineer.
“It took four years for me to get to where I’m at right now,” Gilchrist said. “I learned from a lot of guys who came before me. I have been patient and I understand to be the best that I can be, I have to go hard every play. I have to learn the game and how to study.”
Gilchrist attributed his growth and maturity to Woody, and said that the coach was the reason he has been all over the field through the first three games of this season.
While the defense has played two standout games against Tennessee and Old Dominion, it is Gilchrist who has been a major factor for Appalachian State, and the team hopes it will continue. Gilchrist said he is blessed and thankful for the opportunity to be a Mountaineer.
“This has been a dream come true to play here for four years and I love it,” Gilchrist said. “I thank God for putting me in this great opportunity and for putting me with these great coaches. And, when it’s all said and done, I’m going to miss it.”
Story By: Colin Tate, Sports Reporter