Gillislee is a reluctant star for No. 4 Florida

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.”