DENVER – When head coach Mike MacIntyre decided to become the head coach at Colorado he brought with him all of the enthusiasm and excitement one would except from an energetic young head coach. He brought with him a coaching staff with a resume as impressive as almost any in the country, but it might be an unheralded young linebacker that will go down as his greatest gift to the program.
Freshman linebacker Addison Gillam had what can only be described as a debut for the ages in his team’s season-opening 41-27 win over archrival Colorado State on Sunday. His stat line of 14 tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss not only highlight his remarkable introduction to college football, it should now serve as the standard for which all other Buffs’ debuts will be measured. In the aftermath of such a performance, nobody was more excited than the coach that discovered him and brought him to prominence after the rest of the college football world continuously overlooked him.
“He’s a player, I’ve always known he was a player since he was a junior in high school,” said MacIntyre. “He was up in the hills of California, nobody looked at him but us (San Jose State staff) and I’m glad he’s here. He’s a really good player and I was excited about what he did (Sunday).”
Gilliam first overcame youth and relative obscurity to be named only Colorado’s second freshman ever to start at inside linebacker. He then overcame a “baptism by fire” in his first game as the Rams continuously tried, and often failed, to exploit CU’s inexperience at the center of its revamped defense.
“It was amazing,” said Gillam. “This is the best moment of football I’ve had. We’ve been preparing all week. To finally come up with a victory was a great feeling.”
As a multi-purpose player at Foothill High School in Palo Cedro, Calif., Gillam was never considered big enough or flashy enough to garner attention from most college programs. Despite the fact that he managed to consistently put up big numbers during his prep career, MacIntyre and his SJS staff were the only FBS program to offer him a scholarship.
“I’m from a small town,” said Gillam. “It’s hard to get exposure up there. People just don’t know if there are good teams you are playing against or bad teams that you’re playing against.”
Despite that seeming lack of overall respect, Gillam has quickly developed into a very promising talent who proved on Sunday that he possesses both the heart and resilience to overcome even the biggest of moments. And in an opener filled with big moments, none may have been bigger than the performance of the unheralded linebacker who might become his defense’s centerpiece.