“There’s no feeling like that,” Mike Gillislee said about knowing he’s the starter. “I do extra things just because I know that I’m going to get the ball. I’ll get in the cold tank and take care of my body.”
The confidence in Gillislee is a new feeling. Now a senior, there was always a reason he didn’t get increased touches in his first three years on campus. He always had Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey above him on the depth chart taking most of the carries. Demps and Rainey had the explosiveness to make Urban Meyer’s offense work, but Gillislee is the better fit as a between the tackles running back.
They’re both gone now.
It’s Gillislee’s job to lose. Muschamp even apologized to Gillislee recently that he didn’t get more touches during the 2011 season, but the soft-spoken running back told the head coach not to worry about it and to focus on what would happen this fall. It’s that maturity that has given him the full support of his Florida teammates and coaches.
With the lack of depth at running back on the roster, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he could lose the job. And he’s celebrating that by setting goals as high as possible.
“My goal is to get 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns,” Gillislee said. “It’s pretty much two, maybe three or four touchdowns a game.”
The senior believes those are attainable, despite the touchdown number breaking the SEC record of 23 rushing touchdowns set by Tim Tebow during his sophomore and Heisman Trophy winning season.
The rushing yardage number comes from what he sees every day in the running back meeting room. Gillislee talked about seeing a list of every 1,000-yard running back in school history pasted on the wall in that room. It’s routine for him to sit down and picture what it would be like for his name to join that group. It hasn’t happened at Florida since Ciatrick Fason did it in 2004.
It would the ideal way for Gillislee’s tale of patience to end.
“He was always the guy behind everybody,” senior linebacker Jon Bostic said of Gillislee. “I really respect him for that. Not one time has he been complaining about playing time. He’s one of those guys that just goes, goes and goes. He’s really trying to improve.”
The personal stats are one time, but Gillislee spent most of his time on Wednesday talking about the state of Florida football and how to revive it back to where things use to be early in his career.
“It was real tough,” Gillislee said of the 7-6 season Florida experienced in 2011. “We’ve all got to get Florida football to back how it used to be. Florida fans coming in expect us to win, but it used to be where they knew we were going to win. We’ve got to get Florida football back to that.”
He’s confident that can happen this season. There’s a tough senior class on the 2012 team that has been around for the success and the recent failures. Gillislee thinks this year’s team is different because of one main reason.
“We don’t have selfish people on the team,” he said. “All the selfish people are gone. People who did have selfishness in them, it’s gone. We’re just one family. We’ve got a lot of seniors that have each other’s back. We’re out there playing for the coaches and each other.
“We’ve really got some pretty good leaders on the team this year.”
He’s catching the eyes of other teammates, too. Gillislee isn’t the screamer on the practice field, but he’s trying to push himself out of his comfort zone and help lead a team that is still searching for leaders.
“I’m definitely happy for him,” McCray said. “Me and him had the same kind of career—up and down, not really knowing if we would be the guy. Now he’s the guy, and he needs to capitalize on it.”
Nobody knows that more than Gillislee.