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Top 25 MAC Football Players of 2018: #6 James Gilbert, RB, Ball State

Gilbert was having a banner season before falling victim to the injury bug in 2017.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The injury bug really hit the Ball State Cardinals hard. Like, really, really hard. So hard, in fact, it essentially gutted the 2017 campaign before it even started.

James Gilbert, the electric running back for the Cardinals, was one of the earliest victims of the injury bug in 2017, and that was extremely unfortunate, as the five-foot-nine, 198 lb. running back out of Indianapolis, Indiana, is capable of elite-level production when healthy.

The 2017 season saw Gilbert get action in three games, where he scored four touchdowns (including one rushing score in each game) and 207 rushing yards. His season ended vs. Tennessee Tech, where he was well on his way to a 100-yard rushing day before getting a hand injury which took him out for the rest of the year.

In his 2016 campaign, Gilbert played in all twelve games and eventually took over the starting role after Week 4, finishing with 1,332 rushing yards and 12 rushing touhdowns on 251 carries, averaging an incredible 111 yards per game along the way. GIlbert finished with first-team All-MAC team honors that season and was named to both the Maxwell and Doak Walker preseason watch lists in 2017.

Gilbert will look to lead a young Cardinals offense as its main offensive weapon now that he (and the rest of the team) seems to have fully recovered from injury. If he can reach anywhere close to his 2016 numbers, the Cards certainly have a chance at making a lot of noise in the MAC West race.

Thankfully, most media see the potential for Gilbert to return to his former form, as he was recently named to the 2018 preseason Maxwell Award Watch List.