RECRUITING: How Will McDonald IV helped pave Jace Gilbert’s path to Iowa State

While 2024 Iowa State defensive line commitment Jace Gilbert strained to improve in the youth ranks, a Cyclone great helped boost his development.

Will McDonald IV — ISU’s first player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in 50 years — was playing at Waukesha (Wis.) North High School and assisted Gilbert during youth practices.

“(He) and Will became pretty close, you know, just like a senior mentoring a little youth kid you know, and Will was really good at that,” Former Waukesha North and current Arrowhead High School football coach Matt Harris said.

Playing on the defensive line, like McDonald, Gilbert got to learn from one of the best. He even followed Harris from Waukesha North to Arrowhead starting in his sophomore year.

“This kid was obviously gifted from from the get-go,” Harris said. “I mean, he’s always been one of the biggest kids on field and then I got the Arrowhead Job and his (family) actually decided to move out to Hartland as well.”

Along with that, Gilbert is ‘tied at the hip’ with former NFL lineman Nick Hayden, who spent eight years in the league. The training has obviously paid off for Gilbert, who enters his senior season at Arrowhead this fall.

“He is just a machine right now,” Harris said. “We were in a joint practice during a scrimmage and I’d have a hard time saying he wasn’t the best player on the field — and that’s with five other power-five kids on the field at the same time.”

Harris added that Gilbert trimmed down from 280 pounds to the 260-265 range in preparation for this season.

“He’s special man,” Harris said. “His speed is there now and his pass rush is just spectacular. He’s aggressive.”

Harris spoke ad nauseum about Gilbert’s maturity and the growth that he’s made in that department, as well. All signs point to him being one of the most exciting prospects in the program’s 2024 class.

“His maturity has grown,” Harris said. “Like his grades have gotten spectacular and he just has a great story of a kid who has fought his way to (get to where he is), and he was always super tough.”

Gilbert, along with a couple of other FBS-level players at Arrowhead High School, helped lead the school’s basketball team deep into the state tournament this winter. They fell in the championship game.

“I love it,” Harris said of seeing how things unfolded. “I mean, again, like he’s also a high-level basketball player, right? So honestly, I think just the competitive nature of the school and the practices and in all those things – like going against the Wisconsin Badger right tackle in practice every day – when it gets to game time, he just turns it on. He’s unstoppable, and there’s no offensive lineman in the state that can compare to what he goes against every day.”

There’s no telling what could happen between now and his arrival to Ames, but there is promise in his character. Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell is known to appreciate that quality.

“He just has such a drive to win no matter what he does,” Harris said. “Like he gets the ball on the post. He’s gonna score, you know, like, if it’s third and long, he’s gonna make a huge play.

“And he’s a great kid,” Harris added. “He’s similar to Will in the way like he’s really, you know, he’s kind of quiet, kept to himself, but he’s super funny and it’s super engaging. I think (Iowa State fans) will be really excited once they get to know Jace.”