As he probably will numerous times this season, Bearcats receiver Mardy Gilyard was offered up for interviews this week. Gilyard's a fun guy, a great quote and a talented player who makes this team better.
He also has a very unique story that (hopefully) many players can learn from. Now, I could rehash Gilyard's trials and tribulations, but on the day of this interview I was sharing him with the Enquirer's Paul Daugherty and Joe Kay from the Associated Press.
I've been out of town briefly this week, and I see Paul and Joe have both written stories about Gilyard's "rise from misfortune" already. Joe and Paul have been writing columns/stories much longer than I have, so I'll defer to them in painting the picture of Gilyard's well-documented "comeback story".
Or, for the "Cliff's Notes version": He became ineligible, dropped out of school, worked four jobs, lived in his car and with friends, gained support from friends and family to return to football, was welcomed back and has since turned everything around.
Where at one time his hustle and determination meant working construction, then changing clothes at lunch to make a kitchen cutlery sale, now his hustle and determination shows up on the field.
I don't make light of his story, for it is admirable. As the Bearcats continue to win and appear in and on national platforms, it'll be told again.
It's actually a story that unfolds for many athletes. Just not all of them land on their feet like Gilyard. Typically, it plays out like this: a) young athlete has world by the "tail" and has opportunities that others merely dream of, b) young athlete "blows chance"--usually by making poor choices, then c) they either figure it all out and return to glory, or they keep making poor choices and miss out (the problem there being that they don't understand how poor their choices are at the time).
While we're not making Gilyard out to be a saint here, he's obviously corrected his situation and could be a big influence on others. Having older children in and around situations like this, it's my hope that Mardy Gilyard realizes how influential he can be.
You can influence the most when the spotlight is at its brightest, and Mardy Gilyard right now is front and center in terms of UC football. Coming off a four touchdown game, how good is it to be Mardy Gilyard?
"How good is it to be Jeffrey Linkenbach, Chris Jurek, Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Sam Griffin, Alex Hoffman?" answered Gilyard. "Same as it feels to be those guys."
While those guys might disagree as stores ARE selling #1 jerseys and Gilyard IS more recognizable, the point clearly is that the Bearcats should all feel good about their early start. Naturally, Gilyard couldn't have scored four touchdowns without his teammates, but he did do pretty much everything but put on the drum major suit at halftime against Southeast Missouri State.
"Coach (Charley) Molnar said if we take care of business, we shouldn't see past halftime," said Gilyard. "I just took advantage of the plays that I had, know what I mean?"
Visually yes. Skill-wise, I think some Redhawks would've caught me on a few of those runs. What I wonder is...how greedy can an offensive player become when the Bearcats are moving the ball at will down the field?
"Pike does a good job of distributing the ball to everybody," said Gilyard. "I don't think anyone has an issue with the distribution of the ball and everyone pretty much gets their touches."
And there is where the maturation of a Mardy Gilyard shows.
A lot of fast, talented players from high school with a little success, would be craving more, wanting the "excess", the accolades, etc. Mardy Gilyard, having hammered nails, sold knives, and cooked pasta is simply happy to be participating in a uniform again thank to Brian Kelly's staff opening a door.
His advice is simple and effective....
"Live every second like it's your last, anything can be snatched from you in the blink of an eye, it's just that fast." said Gilyard.
It's silly little sayings like that from an old person close to you, that'll ring true for the rest of your life. It's a common theme. Movies are made of it.
Gilyard was influenced greatly by Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness".
"I loved the movie," he said. "It just kind of shows everyone that hard work does pay off. Sacrifice--my mother's always telling me, 'You've got to go through something to be something.' I guess I went through what I needed to go through, hopefully I don't go through nothing like that ever again."
Who plays the part in Mardy's movie?
"Me...star!" said #1. (Well, you can't blame a college kid for enjoying a little ego, can you?)
In terms of college football, Gilyard is a star. He's already the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week for his punt return exploits. He's also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his college career, and his "yards after catch" ability makes him a threat after any completion.
For a guy that entered UC as a defensive back recruited by Mark Dantonio, he's improved year by year as a receiver since rejoining the team.
"I would say I'm much better," said Gilyard. "I'm stronger. I'm more durable now. I can take more blows now. Coach Molnar (wide receivers) just worked on a lot of little things, helping me read coverages better. I feel like my hands are much better."
Gilyard's goal is to be as good as the guy that caught the winning pass in the most recent Super Bowl, Santonio Holmes of the Steelers. Gilyard claims to play like Holmes (at least that's what his friends and family say).
"I just love the way he plays," said Gilyard. "He has those goofy legs, kind of like he's stumbling all the time like me. I love his game, I love the way he plays."
Gilyard also loves the way HE plays. Better yet, the fact that he DOES play.
"Everyday I get up and come out here, I just feel so blessed." he said. "Just to be out there with the coaches and my team. I don't expect nothing."
On the other hand, fans could get spoiled if Gilyard makes a habit of visiting the endzone multiple times in one game. As long as the offense continues to operate as flawlessly as it has, "Gilyard for six" could become a reasonable expectation on Saturdays.
"We have to feel like we can score every time," said Gilyard of the high-powered Bearcat offense. "Then, when we do score and it's over with and that score goes across the ticker, everybody will be like,'Dang, Cincinnati can play, those boys up there can play ball! It's not a fluke up there!"
In many ways that's the goal this Saturday in Corvallis. The East Coast pundits didn't give UC much thought until they routed Rutgers. Now, there's some West Coast doubters wondering how the Bearcats can fare against Oregon State.
"It's our next big game," said Gilyard. "We know we're going to get a lot of national attention toward this game. They're ranked now, they're a good program at home, they beat USC last year. Those boys are good. We're just not going to go over there and they're going to lay down. We have to go over there and we have to play Bearcat football."
With the national spotlight on UC again, naturally more cameras will find the braided Bearcat on the sideline. It's something about those little shells in his hair (and that he's usually on the end of a big play that allows him to "shout out" to the home fans in Bunnell, Florida). However, if he is getting some notoriety nationally, the former condo builder/knife seller/pizza thrower isn't letting on.
"I really don't pay attention to it," said Gilyard. "I'm pretty much here, I'm like a mole, (I) stay underground here. I try to keep my face and my eyes away from all that stuff. I think the more you read about yourself, the more people get in your face. Your head kind of gets big,big,big,big. I'm trying to keep my head as small as it is."
Good advice. And while the head may be small, something much larger drives #1 from inside.