At 6’5 and 327 lbs., Dillan Gibbons is a big man with a big heart; so, it was only appropriate that his innovative nonprofit organization bear that moniker.
Helping others in need is something Gibbons learned long before experiencing the bright lights of major college football. The Florida State University offensive lineman relayed that he first realized the impact of contributing to the common good as a kid growing up in St. Petersburg.
With college athletes now receiving compensation – sometimes in the millions of dollars – Gibbons decided to apply those early lessons and founded Big Man Big Heart. The nonprofit is now receiving national recognition, and Gibbons recently took home “college football’s premier award for community service,” the Wuerffel Trophy.
Gibbons told the Catalyst it was hard to accept any personal recognition for his charitable efforts and credited the athletes that have helped Big Man Big Heart raise over $425,000 for underserved populations and people with special needs who are undergoing a crisis.
“I’m accepting that award on behalf of all the people that are a part of Big Man Big Heart and all the people around us sharing those stories,” said Gibbons. “I truly am standing on the shoulders of giants – in the literal sense – and I can’t thank everyone enough for being a part of this process.”
Gibbons founded Big Man Big Heart in August 2021 after graduating from Notre Dame and transferring to Florida State with two years of football eligibility. In June 2021, shortly after he arrived in Tallahassee, he learned state leadership passed a law allowing NCAA student-athletes to use their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) for profit.
On July 1, 2021, the first day new NIL regulations took effect, Gibbons started a GoFundMe account to help bring his wheelchair-bound friend from South Bend, Indiana, to Tallahassee. Gibbons met Timothy Donovan at Notre Dame and credited Donovan, who suffers from a disease that will forever prevent him from walking, for helping him overcome adversity.
As luck would have it, the Seminoles faced the Fighting Irish in their 2021 season opener, and Gibbons became the first NCAA student-athlete to use the NIL program to help others.
National press coverage followed, and “TakeTimothytoTally” raised its initial goal of $30,000 in 23 hours. By the third day, Gibbons said Donovan’s GoFundMe reached nearly $100,000, allowing him to bring his friend to Tallahassee and help increase Donovan’s quality of care – and life.
“That opportunity hit me right in the face,” said Gibbons. “I went ahead and started Big Man Big Heart … empowering student-athletes to use their Name, Image and Likeness for good.”
According to ESPN, University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was 2022’s highest NIL earner, with $3.2 million in deals. Gibbons noted that while signal callers for the nation’s most prominent programs are driving sports cars and “signing contracts to be underwear models,” he decided to do something different.
His efforts to connect athletes with people and communities in need soon expanded beyond college football and Florida. The nonprofit has helped people recover from natural disasters and horrific accidents, and Gibbons said a key aspect is just sharing their stories.
In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Gibbons started all 12 games at left guard this season and carried a 3.53 GPA while pursuing his MBA. Named after Danny Wuerffel, the 1996 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from the University of Florida, the Wuerffel Trophy embodies its namesake’s humanitarian commitment.
Since 2005, the award has honored student-athletes who positively impact society and inspire community service. Gibbons was also named to the 2022 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team and recognized during several national television broadcasts.
Gibbons called himself a college football “purist” who never cared about potential money or fame. As a kid growing up in St. Petersburg, he just “wanted to get my education paid for, a place to live – and I get free food.”
His local ties remain intact. Gibbons noted his mom, dad, twin sister, older sister and brother all attended the University of South Florida. He attended Ridgecrest Elementary, and St. Petersburg Catholic, Northside Christian and Clearwater Central Catholic High Schools.
Gibbons noted St. Petersburg’s diversity provided him with a unique perspective not afforded to many college athletes. He also recalled sitting in his mother Lynn’s office on St. Pete’s Central Avenue as a kid before he understood his mom’s career.
One day, a woman overcome with gratitude burst through the door, profusely thanking the worker’s compensation and personal injury attorney for her support through a crisis.
“That’s when I finally realized what my mom did,” said Gibbons. “She helped people for a living, people in the darkest moments of their lives – car crashes, tragic experiences and losing loved ones.
“That’s where I get a lot of it from, my mom and my dad.”
Gibbons, speaking from St. Pete, said he would return to Tallahassee Saturday to finish preparations for FSU’s bowl game. The 13th-ranked Seminoles will face the University of Oklahoma Sooners Friday, Dec. 29, in Orlando.
After that, his attention will turn to the 2023 National Football League Draft. Gibbons said playing professionally has been a dream since he was a kid and watched Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike Alstott – his coach at Northside Christian – flying through the air at Raymond James Stadium.
Expanding Big Man Big Heart will continue regardless, and Gibbons said he has other career plans in place. However, for the next six to eight months, Gibbons said he will “attack” training for the NFL with “everything I possibly have in my whole body.”
“I’m the kind of person that sets his mind to something and works at the goal relentlessly until it comes to fruition.”