The long-lasting impacts of Georgia State athletes

In the wake Black History Month, Georgia State student-athletes talked about who and what inspires them when they deal with their demanding athletic and academic schedules.

Answers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Hank Aaron and other great leaders in the black community were expected to be given.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t just famous athletes or past historical figures who are these players’ idols it was people in their everyday lives such as family members, former coaches, former teachers and mentors in their communities.

Tahji Gilbert is a junior football player at Georgia State. He loves playing football in college but realizes that he didn’t get this opportunity with just his athletic abilities.

“My siblings has been a great influence in my life. They paved the way and showed me that anything that you want to do is very achievable,” Gilbert said.

In addition to Gilbert’s everyday inspiration, he does have an athlete that inspires him.

“Jackie Robinson is an athlete from the past that really inspired me as well. He was a player that played with passion and integrity. Through all the adversity he went through, he still never quit,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert is a player that has firsthand experience with adversity. He had to work his way through the Junior College ranks at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to Georgia State. He played extremely well there in his two years, helping the team to their 8-2 record in 2018 and a No. 8 ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

His hard work earned him a Division I scholarship and plenty more options to choose from than he had coming out of high school. His signing at Georgia State can be contributed to the inspiration from his  family, hard work and perseverance.

Another Georgia State athlete inspired by his family is Malik Benlevi. Benlevi is a senior on the Georgia State’s men’s basketball team. Benlevi discussed in an earlier issue of The Signal the immense support from his family, especially his older brothers.

Benlevi said they are the reason he started playing sports.

“I grew up watching my older brothers play football and basketball,” Benlevi said.

His older brothers are responsible for his switch from football to basketball.

“I started off playing football at first, then I started playing basketball when I was ten, fell in love with it, and stopped playing football after that,” he said.

Switching to basketball matured his career as he’s was a key component during Georgia State’s run to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and has had a historic four years in Atlanta.

His production has gone up every season of his college career, and he has been a huge contributor to the team’s success this season. Benlevi is just seven points away from reaching 1,000 career points.

As a freshman, Benlevi had to make the tough adjustment to college sports and playing less than 10 minutes per game. This was a big change for him as he was the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Region 1-AAA Player of the Year for his senior season of high school.

Still, he was not a highly recruited player and held no offers from any school other than Georgia State. He could’ve easily given up on himself, but he had plenty of support in his corner.

Gilbert and Benlevi, like many other athletes in college and at Georgia State, have everyday obstacles that they face on and off the courts, fields and tracks. With their hectic and unpredictable schedules, one of the only things that remains constant in their lives is where they draw their inspiration from.


Tahji Gilbert

  • 6’0, 280-pound junior defensive lineman from Morton, Mississippi
  • Played at Northwest Mississippi Community College for two years before he transferred to Georgia State in January 2018
  • Gilbert did start in any games during the 2018 season
  • He enters his junior season in 2019
  • As a senior for Morton High School, he led the team in tackles with 105 and also had six fumbles, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries

Malik Benlevi

  • Georgia State was his only offer while in high school, but he a key cog in Georgia State’s past three seasons
  • Played just 8.3 minutes in his freshman year, but now he is seven points away from reaching 1,000 career points
  • Benlevi originally played football, but his older brothers recommended that he play basketball instead
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named him Georgia’s Region 1-AAA Player of the Year for his senior season in high school