Gillislee is a reluctant star for UF
The Gators senior has rushed for 548 yards and seven touchdowns this season
Florida's Mike Gillislee avoids interviews as well as he does defenders, says little in the locker room and talks even less in the huddle.
His play, though, speaks volumes for the fourth-ranked Gators.
Gillislee has rushed for 548 yards and seven touchdowns this season, emerging as the key cog in Florida's grind-it-out offense. The senior from DeLand leads the Southeastern Conference with nearly 110 yards a game on the ground and has been at his best against ranked teams.
He had a career-high 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Saturday's 14-6 win against LSU, earning him the SEC's offensive player of the week award Monday.
"He just moves the chains over and over again," said coach Will Muschamp, whose team plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday. "You get kind of tired of tackling him. The fourth quarter, that's where he starts wearing on people."
Gillislee's second-half success is fairly fitting since he was such a late bloomer in college.
Gillislee showed glimpses of talent during his first three years in Gainesville, getting on the field mostly in mop-up duty while playing behind speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. He ran for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns his first three seasons, averaging an eye-popping 6.3 yards a carry.
But because of his position on the depth chart, his inability to pick up blocking schemes and a nagging ankle injury, Gillislee spent most of his career watching and waiting from the sideline.
He got his chance in spring practice and was impressive enough that Muschamp penciled him as the starter. But by moving tight end Omarius Hines to running back, hyping up highly touted freshman Matt Jones and giving fullbacks Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer plenty of carries, the Gators never seemed settled at the position.
Now, though, Gillislee has been the main reason Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC) has been able to successfully transition from a perimeter running team to a power attack in Muschamp's second season.
"He's just a one-cut guy," Muschamp said. "He's going to stick his foot in the ground and he's going to get north and south. ... He hits a crease. He may not hit the big one every time, but in our league it's hard to hit big ones. You're going to get run down. A 5-yard run is a great run, and that's what sometimes younger players don't understand. They want to hit the big run, and in our league that's difficult."
Maybe the most telling stat for Gillislee is negative yardage. He has lost just nine yards in 103 carries. He didn't lose any ground in his 34 attempts against the Tigers.
"I don't know how they get all those guys, but they are super fast," Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr said.
Gillislee joined former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and former Arkansas star Darren McFadden as the only recent players to run for 140 yards and two scores against LSU's vaunted defense. Newton and McFadden both ended up in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, with Newton winning in 2010 and McFadden finishing second in 2006 and 2007.
What about Gillislee possibly being in the Heisman hunt?
"We're in the fifth game of the year," Muschamp said. "Next question."
Gillislee probably would be even more reluctant to entertain thoughts about college football's premier award. After all, he rarely does interviews - he has spoken to the media twice since fall practice began - and barely talks to teammates and coaches.
"He's definitely a quiet guy," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "He keeps to himself. When he has something to say, it's important, so you're going to listen when he starts to talk. He doesn't like talking to the media, but he's a guy we kind of rally around him. He can be funny at times, but he kind of keeps to himself."
Florida is fine with that, especially if Gillislee keep talking like has been on the field.
"Mike Gillislee is a great running back," center Jon Harrison said. "He has a lot of heart, a lot of drive. ... He's going to give it his all, even if it's sacrificing his body. The best thing about him is he that he just kept working.
"He just kept working and giving it his all every day, day in, day out, practice, weight room, whatever it takes, and that's what we respect so much about him."
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