Dillan Gibbons didn’t enter Notre Dame with any dreams of changing the football landscape. Then he met Irish fan Timothy Donovan.
It was after a home game at Notre Dame Stadium when Gibbons first saw Donovan in his wheelchair. The two made eye contact and Gibbons came over and gave the Irish fan his game gloves. Donovan has Charcot-Marie-Tooth — a disease that causes nerve damage in his arms and legs — and the brief meeting stuck with Gibbons.
“Having an interaction with Timothy — it constantly reminded me to do more,” Gibbons says. “It flipped a switch in me to do more.”
Fast-forward to the end of his Notre Dame career, when Gibbons, an offensive lineman, decided to transfer to Florida State to be closer to home. The state of Florida had a plan to enact NIL legislation in 2021, and the light bulb in Gibbons’ mind grew bright: Here was his chance, maybe, to help Timothy.
On July 1, 2021 — the day the Florida law took effect — Gibbons posted his “first try” at NIL. It was a GoFundMe to help Timothy with medical expenses and a chance to see Notre Dame play Florida State in Tallahassee on September 5.
“The first 12 hours, it got a few thousand [dollars],” Gibbons recalls. “By the 20th hour, it jumped to $15,000. I got in my truck, heading back home, and I got an alert — Super Coffee donated $15,000. My mom called me crying. She was freaking out. I had to pull over. Being by myself, I had to call the Donovans. It’s hard not to cry.”
Gibbons named his new initiative “Big Man Big Heart” – purposefully leaving his name out of it. “No one knows who I am,” he says. “No one cares.” Yet in a way, his trailblazing made him a name that will last in name, image and likeness lore.
Gibbons is trying every day to make the most of his time — and his chance to help others. “To be able to help people,” he says through tears. “And inspire them a little through college football.”
In that sense, NIL is one of the best things to happen to the sport.
— By Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) for the Athlon Sports 2022 National College Football Annual.