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Home field advantage


He didn't dream this growing up – at least, not exactly.

Charles Gilbert did grow up in Jacksonville and he attended Ridgeview High School, but his father was a Minnesota Vikings fan, so the hometown team thing? It wasn't quite that.

But Gilbert, who hopes this weekend to begin the process of becoming the return specialist the Jaguars believe they need, did go to the team's games growing up, and he couldn't help driving by EverBank Field.

"I remember always passing by, I'd say, 'I'm going to play in that stadium one day,"' Gilbert said.

For Gilbert, the next step is Friday.

Gilbert (6-feet-0, 170 pounds), a wide receiver from Concordia-St. Paul, will be among 27 workout invitees in the Jaguars' three-day rookie mini-camp Friday through Sunday at EverBank Field. The group includes 20 rookies and seven veterans who will practice with the team's six selections in the 2012 NFL Draft and 17 players signed as undrafted free agents.

The 27 invitees are long shots for an NFL roster – maybe the longest of shots – but Gilbert said he remains confident.

"I came to Jacksonville for the simple reason that I feel I can make this team," said Gilbert, who said he also was invited to work out for Minnesota. "I'm just ready. I'm ready to show all of the non-believers I can do it.

"People talk about my size and my weight. I'm a buck-seventy, but I have a lot of positives toward me."

One positive? Speed. He was timed at 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his recent Pro Day. Another is he believes there is a role to be filled.

Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said during last weekend's NFL Draft that the team needs a reliable returner, mentioning cornerback Aaron Ross, wide receivers Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts and running backs Rashad Jennings and DuJuan Harris as possibilities. But the search won't be limited to players currently on the roster, and Gilbert said when he spoke with Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey before signing, it was the returner role the two most discussed.

"I want to be the Percy Harvin of Jacksonville," Gilbert said. "I want to show I can field the ball, and that I'm an elusive player. I feel like that's what Jacksonville really needs – an elusive player. They've got receivers who can catch the ball. I want to be an elusive guy.

"That's what they're looking for me to come in and do."

One reason Gilbert said he was overlooked not only in the draft, but free agency? While he has return skills, he focused more on wide receiver collegiately.

A three-sport athlete, he lettered in football, basketball and track at Ridgeview, and was first-team All-Conference in football and basketball as a junior and senior. He scored 14 touchdowns as a junior and six as a senior, and played his first two collegiate seasons at NAIA Webber International (Fla.) University.

He then transferred to Concordia, where he caught 89 passes for 1,941 yards and 25 touchdowns, including 46 passes for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. Gilbert returned 29 kickoffs for a 29.4-yard average and had an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as a junior, but said he didn't emphasize that on footage sent to teams before the draft.

"I didn't have much special teams on my highlight tape," he said. "That's why I didn't get the free agent deal. I have to show myself."

Proving he can play in a pressurized situation won't be anything new to Gilbert, and he said it's not something that worries him. That's because working to overcome odds isn't new, either.

"Coming from a small school, I've had to work for what I get," he said. "I have to work for what I want."

If the idea of having three days to prove whether or not he can play in the NFL seems overwhelming, Gilbert said he doesn't see it that way.

"That definitely doesn't scare me," he said. "When you talk to the head coach and a lot of the personnel people – I'm not coming in there as a number, I wouldn't say. They already know me. They're already looking for me, so I feel like I've got the upper hand.

"I'm excited. I'm approaching it like every week. I'm coming in like it was a game. I'm giving it my best shot, and the result should come out good."

And though he said he may not exactly have dreamed of playing for the Jaguars, those dreams of playing at EverBank? During a weekend like this one, they can't hurt.

"I get home field advantage," he said. "This is my stadium with me being home. My family's excited, and they always saw me playing in the NFL. This is a dream come true if that happens."

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