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Gators aim to run back into contention and ride patient Gillislee

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'I just want to be remembered,' senior running back Mike Gillislee says. (US Presswire)  
'I just want to be remembered,' senior running back Mike Gillislee says. (US Presswire)  

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the running backs meeting room at the Florida football complex, there is a short but impressive list on the wall. There are only seven names on it.

In the 106-year football history of the University of Florida, only seven men have run for over 1,000 yards in a season. Emmitt Smith and Errict Rhett did it twice. No Florida running back has gone over 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason did it in 2004, Ron Zook's last season as head coach.

In 2012, his final season as a Florida Gator, Mike Gillislee's goal is nothing less than to add his name to that list.

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"I just want to be remembered," said Gillislee, from DeLand, Fla. "I sat back for three years and now I want to make the most of my senior year."

If head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease are successful in executing their plan, Gillislee will get every opportunity to reach that goal. Because when Muschamp looks at Mike Gillislee he sees the future. He sees what he wants Florida football to be.

"I am very comfortable with Mike Gillislee. He is a very good football player," said Muschamp, set to begin his second year in Gainesville. "Looking back on it now, I wished we could have used him more last season. There were specific reasons why we didn't but when Mike got a chance he certainly produced."

Muschamp made it clear when he got to Florida in 2011 that he wanted transform the Gators, both mentally and physically, from the spread run by Urban Meyer and to eventually become a smash-mouth, power-running, play-action pass offense in the model of Alabama. "You can win a bunch of games by spreading people out and throwing the ball, but you're not going to win the [SEC] championship doing that," said Muschamp. "Now Florida and Auburn did it with two of the greatest football players you're ever going to see [Tim Tebow and Cam Newton]. But there ain't too many of those guys running around out there."

After discussing personnel with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis for the 2011 season, common sense dictated that the offense be built around two leftover speedsters from the Meyer era, Chris Rainey and Olympian Jeff Demps, plus the strong right arm of senior quarterback John Brantley.

So as a junior Gillislee was limited to only 56 carries for only 328 yards. But he averaged 5.9 yards every time he touched the ball.

"It was frustrating, but Chris and Jeff are great players and we needed to get them the ball," said Gillislee. "I just felt that if I kept working I was going to get my chance."

Now Rainey, Demps and Brantley are gone. Florida will now rely on two very young quarterbacks, Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who were thrown into the fire as freshmen last season when Brantley got hurt.

Neither is ready to put up big numbers against a quality SEC defense. This season Florida will have to run the ball effectively and play defense if it hopes to be in the mix for the SEC East championship.

After only 145 carries (6.3-yard average) in his first three seasons at Florida, Gillislee is more than ready to play the role that is envisioned for him.

"The thing about Mike is that he is the perfect teammate," said running backs coach Brian White. "All he does is show up to practice every day and bust his [butt]. He is a lunch pail guy who comes to work, pounds nails all day and comes back ready to go to tomorrow. We are looking forward to everybody else seeing what a good player he is."

At 5-11, 201 pounds, Gillislee has power but also has surprising speed. Last season he had a 60-yard touchdown run against Kentucky. Two years ago he had long runs of 49 and 52 yards.

Florida: 1,000 Yard Rushers
Yards Player, Year
1,599 Emmitt Smith, 1989
1,341 Emmitt Smith, 1987
1,307 Jimmy DuBose, 1975
1,292 Fred Taylor, 1997
1,289 Errict Rhett, 1993
1,267 Ciatrick Fason, 2004
1,109 Errict Rhett, 1991
1,085 Earnest Graham, 2002
1,034 Neal Anderson, 1985

"People look at him and figure all he can do is pound people, and he can certainly do that. He doesn't shy away from contact," said White. "But once he gets a crease, Mike can run away from people."

"I'm actually faster than people think I am," said Gillislee.

As long as he stays healthy, Gillislee will be the featured back in a creative running game put together by Pease, who came to Florida from Boise State. But Gillislee will get a lot of help.

Freshman Matt Jones, an early enrollee who participated in spring practice, is going to have an impact right away. He is huge (6-2, 227) and has proven to be a very quick study.

"He's going to help us this fall because Matt Jones is one of those guys where a 4-yard run in the first quarter becomes a 7-yard run in the fourth quarter," said Muschamp. "There is a lot he needs to learn but he's picked things up very well."

Redshirt sophomore Mack Brown was a highly-recruited player out of Lithonia, Ga., who is still looking for a comfort zone in this offense. Brown only got 12 carries for 42 yards last season. Coaches are hoping he can contribute this fall.

Florida also has some hybrid players at the position like former quarterback Trey Burton, who has played four different positions for the Gators. Former tight end Omarius Hines, former safety Chris Johnson and fullback Hunter Joyner all fit into the offensive scheme.

"We have a lot of guys at the position who can do a lot of different things," said Muschamp. "Let's just say that I feel a lot better about the running game right now than I did a year ago."

Still, there is no question that Gillislee is Muschamp's guy. Gillislee admits, "I'm not a big talker." Nevertheless, Muschamp took Gillislee to SEC media days where he faced over 1,000 members of the press.

He is Florida's tailback and Muschamp wanted him to get used to the playing role both on the field and off.

"It helped me to go," Gillislee said of the experience. "It's part of being a player at Florida and I need to get used to it."

Florida opens the 2012 season at home with Bowling Green on Sept. 1. Then come consecutive SEC road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee. After three years of waiting, it will finally be "Go Time" for Mike Gillislee. Do you think he is excited?

"I'm way past excited," Gillislee said. "I'm just ready to explode."

The Tony Barnhart Show begins Aug. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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