Mike Gillislee finds inspiration from Dolphins’ Ricky Williams

DAVIE, Fla. — Just 12 times has a Miami Dolphins running back had a 1,000-yard season. At the top of the list is Ricky Williams, who had the two most prolific seasons in team history.
Williams also is the guy who turned Mike Gillislee into a Dolphins fan.
“I looked up to Ricky Williams,’’ Gillislee, a fifth-round pick by Miami last weekend out of Florida, said about growing up in DeLand, Fla., just north of Orlando. “He was a great back and he really brought my attention to the Miami Dolphins. I grew up a Miami Dolphins fan. (Gillislee admired Williams due to) his competitiveness and his drive and his passion for the game.’’
Gillislee is now 22. When he was 12, he was busy watching Williams rush for a team-record 1,853 yards in 2002.
Williams has three of the top four rushing seasons in Dolphins history and is one just eight different backs to have gained 1,000 or more yards in a season for the team. Gillislee was asked what it would be like one day to be on the same list as Williams as a Miami 1,000-yard runner.
“It would be a dream come true,’’ said Gillislee, speaking after the Dolphins held their first workout Friday of a three-day rookie mini-camp at the team training facility.
But first things first. Gillislee would need to win the starting running back job for that ever to happen.
Could he do it as a rookie?
“I wouldn’t rule it out,’’ said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.
The starting spot is wide open after Reggie Bush, who in 2011 had become one of those Miami 1,000-yard backs, left as a free agent to sign with Detroit. The leading candidates for the job are second-year man Lamar Miller and third-year pro Daniel Thomas.
But rookie running backs, even those drafted in a late round, have won starting jobs before. And Gillislee comes in with good credentials, having gained 1,152 yards with a 4.7 average per carry last season as a Florida senior.
“I just came here to compete against the best,’’ Gillislee said about battling to be the starter. “Lamar and all the other running backs are good, too. I just came in to learn the playbook and whatever happens after that happens.’’
The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Gillislee slipped to the fifth round because he doesn’t have breakaway speed and since he only had one season as the Gators’ feature back. He gained a modest 920 yards in his first three years, although he did have a whopping average of 6.3 yards per carry.
Regardless, the Dolphins need somebody to replace Bush. The favorite is Miller, who actually is five months younger than Gillislee. Miller also wasn’t a high pick, having been taken in the fourth round last year.
It’s not uncommon, though, for lower NFL picks or those undrafted to come up big at running back. Houston’s Arian Foster, who led the league in rushing in 2010 and has three straight 1,000 yard seasons, was undrafted.
So was Priest Holmes, who had four 1,000-yard seasons before retiring after the 2007 season. Terrell Davis, one of just seven players in NFL history to have had a 2,000-yard rushing season, was a sixth-round pick in 1995.
“I was just praying I got drafted,’’ Gillislee said of last weekend. “I was blessed to hear my name called… If I wasn’t drafted, if I was a free agent, I would have still done what I do every day, give it my all.’’
Gillislee was one of three Florida players drafted by the Dolphins who took to a pro field for the first time Friday. The others are linebacker Jelani Jenkins, a fourth-round selection, and kicker Caleb Sturgis, who was the team’s second fifth-round pick after Gillislee.
Strugis was the guy kicking extra points last season after Gillislee scored 11 touchdowns, 10 on the ground. Let him offer a scouting report.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete, a hard runner, just works so hard,’’ Sturgis said. “I think he’s going to do amazing things here. He really only got one season where he was the feature back and look at what he did with it. I think he’s going to continue that through and really help this team.’’
As a junior at Florida, Gillislee played behind seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. But many fans sent out tweets with the phrase #FreeGilly, believing Gillislee should have been given more carries.
Meanwhile, Gillislee took it all in stride.
“Patience is the key,’’ Gillislee said. “Just waiting your turn… Competing every day and not giving up and you never know what might happen.’’
Gillislee has a tattoo on his chest that reads “Faith.’’ That’s for being deeply religious and for his belief that hard work pays off.
Although he’s had just one workout without contact, early reviews are at least good on Gillislee. Philbin liked what he saw Friday.
“It looked like he had some good bursts out there today and he’s picked up the offense relatively well so far,’’ Philbin said. “I thought he did a good job.”
Come back during training camp to see if Gillislee really might compete strongly for the starting job. If he ever wins it, come back to see if he’ll have his name alongside his idol Williams on a list of Dolphins 1,000-yard rushers.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson