SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Long before Dillan Gibbons launched the ”Take Timothy to Tally” fundraising campaign in honor of his friend and biggest fan, Timothy Donovan, Florida State’s visionary offensive lineman took an unsettling glimpse into the future.
As he patiently waited his turn at Notre Dame, Gibbons found himself in discussions with some of his Irish teammates about how allowing NCAA student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness might play out.
”I was kind of appalled by some of the things I was hearing, some of the predictions of things that were going to happen,” Gibbons told reporters this week. ”I had the picture in my head of the star player on the team rolling up in an Escalade or a really fancy car the first day. Just imagine how the rest of the team would feel and what kind of separation that would cause in the locker room.”
Gibbons, a graduate transfer, decided to take NIL in a different direction, one that ultimately would allow the Donovan family to travel from Dayton, Ohio, for an unforgettable Labor Day weekend around Gibbons’ debut with the Seminoles against his former team.
His brainstorming began long before July 1 and the national rollout of open season in the NIL arena. While his former mates on the offensive line at Notre Dame recently signed a sponsorship deal with a barbecue chain, Gibbons launched a GoFundMe initiative for Donovan, who suffers from a rare medical condition that has required numerous surgeries.
They had met in the fall of 2017 outside Notre Dame Stadium, Gibbons’ gaze naturally falling on the frail teenager hunched over in a wheelchair. Gibbons, a 6-4, 309-pound product of Clearwater (Florida) Central Catholic High School, signed a pair of his gloves, kneeled down for a few photos and exchanged contact information.
The relationship grew steadily from there. Gibbons, 21, would try to inspire Donovan through his health struggles, and Donovan would try to motivate Gibbons to remain optimistic through multiple foot injuries that slowed his progress.
”Once I made a connection with him, I made a very distinct decision in my life to engage with him and not just have a one-off relationship or a one-off day where I gave him a pair of gloves and walked away,” Gibbons said. ”I wanted to do as much as I possibly could.”
About a year ago, Gibbons was in a class on strategic business decisions at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business when he had a revelation. With the NIL doors about to be flung open, why not devise an initiative that would have a life-changing effect on someone less fortunate?
What began with a modest goal of a few thousand dollars to pay for Donovan’s travel expenses since has blossomed into a national cause that has raised $49,000 toward a mountain of family medical expenses. About a third of that sum came from a single company, Super Coffee.
Gibbons had to pull over to compose himself when he heard the news as he made the drive home from Tallahassee.
”I’m completely overwhelmed; my family is overwhelmed,” Gibbons said. ”The Donovan family can’t even see straight.”
Paula Donovan has been keeping a scrapbook of all the articles and social-media posts recognizing her son’s long-running fight. His latest surgery this summer increased his height by 4 or 5 inches while straightening a 90-degree bend in his spine to about 40 degrees.
Post-surgery complications, however, led to pneumonia, which has landed Timothy back in the hospital.
”He’s in good spirits,” Gibbons said, ”but he’s definitely still struggling.”
With the season opener seven weeks away, planning has swept into overdrive. A Tallahassee-area hotel has donated rooms, a local bookstore will outfit the Donovans with Seminoles gear and program boosters have donated game tickets and parking passes.
Gibbons’ new vision is to give Timothy ”his day in the sun,” to make him feel like a five-star football recruit from the moment he and his family land at the airport. The pinnacle, Gibbons said, would be for the Donovans to make their way onto Bobby Bowden Field, so the crowd of 80,000 could cheer Timothy for his lifelong courage.
At that moment, it would be hard to imagine any NCAA student-athlete making better use of NIL.