Tuesday October 9, 2012Mike Gillislee: From The Shadows To The Spotlight
By Robyn Jones, UF Communications
University of Florida senior tailback Mike Gillislee may be a quiet guy by nature, but the noise he is making on the football field this fall is quickly propelling him into the national spotlight. That spotlight is exactly what Gillislee has been waiting for.
“I just want to be remembered,” said the DeLand native. “I sat back for three years waiting for an opportunity and now I want to make the most of my senior year.”
He is well on his way to being remembered. Gillislee sat atop the SEC leaders in rushing yards through the first three weeks, and matched his previous season best of 56 rushing attempts in just three games.
Waiting for this opportunity to come was difficult for him, but Gillislee says, “It’s a dream come true.”
Gillislee had to sit back patiently and watch as his mentors, former Florida running backs and current NFL players Chris Rainey (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Olympian Jeff Demps (New England Patriots; on injured reserve this fall), ran the ball for the Gators. Spending his time on the sideline was something that was not wished for, but emphasized Gillislee’s humble character. Although he did not see the field as often as he might have liked, the drive and passion that Gillislee upheld for those three years was amazing.
“Mike is the perfect teammate,” said Brian White, UF’s running backs coach. “All he does is show up to practice every day and bust his butt.”
Opportunity finally came knocking for Gillislee entering his final campaign. Heading into the 2012 season, head coach Will Muschamp highlighted Gillislee as his go-to guy for the year following a career in which he averaged 6.3 yards per attempt and scored 11 touchdowns in his first three seasons.
“Mike is a guy that I'm expecting to have a good senior season,” Muschamp mentioned at SEC Media Days. “We're expecting him to have a great year. He's not a man of many words.”
Through the Gators’ first four games, all victories, Gillislee has collected 402 yards rushing, averaging 5.8 yards a carry, and has scored a team-high five touchdowns for the Orange and Blue.
“I’ve been going out there and giving it all I have,” commented Gillislee on his performance. “I haven’t been 100 percent yet because of my injury, but I’ve been giving it all I got.”
As Gillislee approaches full strength, and the team is positioned with an overall record of 4-0 record and a 3-0 SEC mark, Gator fans are bursting with anticipation. Winning is not only a tradition at Florida, it’s an expectation.
Gillislee has noted that it’s time to “get Florida football back where it used to be.”
The Gators, who are now ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll entering today’s showdown with LSU, have the right start and the right attitude. As one of the team’s leaders, both on and off of the field, Gillislee remains modest in his words.
“My goal for the season is to win,” Gillislee said.
Winning is what Florida likes to hear. With the kind of offensive numbers that Gillislee is putting up, Gator fans are seeing him transform from a boy waiting for his chance on the sidelines to the key component of the offense.
Through his performance and steady play, Gillislee has become the face of the Florida offense, alongside sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“All I had to do was turn around and give it to Mike,” said Driskel after the season opener in The Swamp against Bowling Green, when Gillislee erupted for a career-high 148 yards on the ground on 24 carries (6.2 avg.) and scored twice. It was the running back’s first career 100-yard effort and featured touchdown runs of 15 and 38 yards in the second quarter.
Gillislee’s teammates and coaches have confidence in him, and it’s time for Florida fans to have it too. He may only be 5-foot-11 and tip the scales at 209 pounds, but what he’s lacking in size, he makes up for in dedication.
“We’ve got a saying that we’re going to start fast and we’re going to finish,” Gillislee told reporters prior to the beginning of the season.
In the first two games, UF wins over Bowling Green and Texas A&M, Gillislee totaled a pair of touchdowns in each outing and rushed for 231 yards, leaving quite an impression.
“He’s great on his feet and is great at making plays,” senior center Jon Harrison acknowledged after the Texas A&M game, a contest where Gillislee had 83 yards on 14 attempts (5.9 avg.) and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 12-yard run with 13:05 left in the game. “His versatility just makes him that much more valuable of a player to our team and to our offense.”
So far, Gillislee is proving to be a valuable asset that the Gators will need to have a strong season, and is also becoming one of the top tailbacks in the SEC. Seeing his name among the league leaders in rushing, Gillislee isn’t fazed.
“I just care about going out there, performing for my football team and winning games,” he stated.
Gillislee is a great inspiration for the things that are possible when hard work and patience strike a perfect balance. Doing what he did takes a tough individual, and that’s exactly how teammates describe him.
Coming from the shadows of Florida’s bench into a starring role, Gillislee hopes to prove himself as the Gators’ explosive weapon in 2012. Some people say that he already has.
After his playing career at Florida is complete, Gillislee says he is looking into hopefully being drafted to the NFL and that he is still weighing his other post-college options.
For now, Gillislee will enjoy his time in the spotlight as a proud Gator in helping Florida to achieve all of its preseason goals in order to return to prominence.