Gillislee: I Got Faith In Everything That I Do

Posted May 10, 2013

Dolphins rookie looks to former Fins running back Ricky Williams for inspiration.

It may have been just a simple running play in a spring practice with no pads and no contact, but Mike Gillislee still looked smooth as he took a handoff to the right before making a sharp cut and headed upfield.

The running back from the University of Florida showed in that one moment the qualities that led the Dolphins to spend a fifth-round pick on him in the 2013 NFL draft.

The vision. The quick decision. The fluidity of movement.

Interestingly, the one criticism of Gillislee as a prospect heading into the draft was that he didn’t have a skill that stood out. Of course, another way to look at it that Gillislee does everything pretty well.

Maybe it’s just that Gillislee isn’t flashy as a running back, won’t make a guy miss with a quick stutter step or spin move like someone like, say, Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson or even Reggie Bush.

But Gillislee clearly can run the ball. His one season as the starting running back at the University of Florida proved that.

“He’s got a very good skill set for the running back position,” GM Jeff Ireland said after drafting Gillislee. “Catches the ball well and he pass-protects. He runs it very well as well. He’s tough. He plays downhill. (He’s) got a really good skill set to translate to pro football.”

A native of DeLand, Fla., Gillislee says he’s always been a fan of the Dolphins, mentioning Ricky Williams as one of his early favorites. Another is Arian Foster of the Houston Texans.

See, Gillislee and Foster have some things in common. For one thing, their running styles are similar, with both ideally suited for the zone-blocking scheme — Gillislee says it’s about “just getting dowhill. Don’t shake a lot, just get downhill and read your blocks. And be patient.”

The other thing is that both Foster and Gillislee came out of nowhere to become stars.

Foster went from an undrafted rookie free agent in the NFL to leading the league in rushing. Gillislee went from being a backup for three years at Florida to becoming the first Gators running back since 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

“He played on special teams and contributed to the team in a number of different fashions during the course of his career,” Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “Then when his opportunity came we thought he took advantage of it well.”

And then some. After patiently waiting his turn, Gillislee emerged as a star in 2012, rushing for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The highlights included a 146-yard performance against an LSU defense that had seven players selected in this year’s NFL draft, and later a 140-yard outing against a Florida State defense that also had seven players drafted.

Gillislee’s performance came after he had predicted at the SEC Media Days he would rush for 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns. His coaches hadn’t predicted anything that bold, but they knew all along what kind of player — and person — he was.

“The thing about Mike is that he is the perfect teammate,” UF running backs coach Brian White said last August. “All he does is show up to practice every day and bust his butt. He is a lunch-pail guy who comes to work, pounds nails all day and comes back ready to go to tomorrow. We are looking forward to everybody else seeing what a good player he is.”

Gillislee, who was rated the seventh-best running back in the nation by as a high school senior, carried the ball 145 times his first three seasons combined before getting 244 attempts in 2012.

But the thought of transferring for more playing time never crossed his mind.

“I just wanted to play, and I always was a Gators fan, too, so I just wanted to do whatever for my football team,” Gillislee said. “I wouldn’t say it was tough. It was just waiting on my opportunity. I knew one day that it was going to come. It came, and I took advantage of it.”

As he begins his professional career, no one really knows exactly when Gillislee’s opportunity to carry the ball for the Dolphins will come. What we do know is that with the departure of Bush as a free agent, the Dolphins will have a new starter at running back.

While 2012 fourth-round pick Lamar Miller and 2011 second-round choice Daniel Thomas have more experience, it would be a mistake to discount Gillislee. Philbin said after the first rookie minicamp that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Gillislee starting.

Whatever happens, Gillislee will just show up to every practice, do his work, keep pushing and keep having faith.

That word, “faith,” actually is tattoed across his chest. As he walked off the practice field following that first minicamp practice, he said simply, “I got faith in everything that I do.”
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