Gillislee ready to be No. 1 running back


UF’s Mike Gillislee sings with the team after defeating Vandy last season. Gillislee has a chance to be UF’s top tailback this year.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.

For a guy who lives to take off and run, it has been a long, frustrating and sometimes painful three years for Mike Gillislee.

He's been stuck in neutral at Florida.

Every time the opportunity has arisen for him to finally kick it into drive, he's been stalled by injuries.

“It was very frustrating,” the senior tailback said Tuesday. “Every time it was time for me to step up, I ended up getting hurt. Now, I see that taking care of your body is the most important thing. That's a big part of what I'm doing now.

“Every day after practice, I get in the cold tank and do the little things before anything major happens. It's been mostly ankle injuries.”

Gillislee's ankles feel fine now, and his outlook has never been better. Finally, he's No. 1 on the depth chart at tailback. The opportunity is there for him to take off and run in 2012.

Now that Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are gone, Gillislee has a chance to be the Gators' every-down tailback.

“(My role) has increased a lot,” he said. “The biggest role right now is getting better every day, being a leader.

“Yes, sir, no doubt (I can be an every-down back). This is my last chance, just the opportunity I've been waiting on to take advantage, being No. 1 on the depth chart so far, just getting better every day.”

Other than the football, nothing is going to be handed to Gillislee. He's going to have to earn the right to stay No. 1 on the practice field. The coaches are throwing plenty of competition his way — talented sophomore Mack Brown, former wide receiver Omarius Hines and former safety/linebacker Chris Johnson.

The search is on this spring to create a physical, downhill running attack. The 203-pound Gillislee said he can be the downhill runner the Gators are seeking.

“Yes, sir, always,” he was said when asked if he was a downhill runner. “I'm a north and south guy.”

Gillislee has shown that ability at times over the past few seasons, but not often enough. A combination of things has prevented him from becoming a major factor in the running game — nagging injuries and his struggles in pass protection.

Well, he's healthy now and he said he's become much more effective picking up blitzes.

“I feel comfortable now (in pass protection) because I'm getting a lot more reps than I usually get,” Gillislee said. “It's hard (to pick up blitzes). You've got to know who is coming and you've got a route at the same time. So, that's the whole hard thing about pass protection.

“I had a little bit of trouble (in the past), but I'm good at it now.”

On the occasions he's been handed the ball in the past, Gillislee has shown flashes of being an excellent runner between the tackles.

He was asked if he could envision getting 200 carries and rushing for 1,000 yards this season.

“I can envision it,” he said. “But in the past, I never knew when I was going to get (the ball) again. I'm just going to go as hard as I can. That's a big reason I'll break out.”

The UF coaches certainly would like to see it.

“Mike Gillislee is a guy we're excited about,” UF coach Will Muschamp said.

Muschamp also seems excited about the tailback position in general.

It's still very early, but the experiment of moving the 223-pound Hines to tailback has been a success so far this spring. Johnson has also made some impressive runs. And Brown looks like he's positioning himself to possibly emerge this season.

Also, fullbacks Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer are both capable of playing in a one-back set, Muschamp said.

“(Hines) has done some nice things carrying the ball,” Muschamp said. “He's a guy who has some nice instincts with the ball in his hands. I'm interested to see him progress.

“More than anything, it was adding a bigger body in the backfield. He's certainly, from an explosive athlete standpoint, a guy who stands out.”

Muschamp said Brown also is starting to stand out.

“Mack Brown is playing his best ball since he's been at Florida, according to (running backs coach) Brian White,” Muschamp said. “I think (Brown and Gillislee) jump out.

“Trey Burton does a lot of different things for us. Hunter Joyer is a guy who plays in the one-back. We have some guys with different skill sets to see where they match with what we're doing offensively.”

Gillislee, for one, is ready to take off and run.

Despite his past disappointments at UF, he said he never even considered taking off and running away to another school.

“No, sir,” he said. “I was born a Gator. I've been a Gator all my life. I'd never change this. Now, it's my opportunity, so I'm planning on keeping it that way.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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