One of the few bright spots from New England’s season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Patriots running back Mike Gillislee scored three touchdowns in his first regular-season game with the team. Gillislee, who looked equally impressive in his preseason debut, was acquired during the offseason from the Buffalo Bills in an effort to replace rushing powerhouse LeGarrette Blount.
Here are five things to know about the 26-year-old:
1. He had somewhat of a meteoric rise in college.
Under the tutelage of head coach Urban Meyer, Gillislee’s first three seasons as a Florida Gator pale in comparison to his last. His cumulative rushing yards from his freshman, sophomore, and junior years totaled 920, which is 232 fewer than his yardage from senior year alone.
During his final season in Gainesville, Gillislee become the first running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Earning first-team All-SEC honors, his breakout year featured 10 touchdowns as well as five games with 100-plus yards. He notably lost just 34 yards all season and came up clutch in big games against Florida State and conference rival LSU.
Despite his series of impressive accomplishments as a senior, Gillislee’s favorite college football memory actually came during his first year on the team.
“Getting Tim Tebow’s last handoff in the Swamp and the bowl game,” he told ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “Almost scored.”
2. His first four years in the NFL have followed a similar pattern.
Drafted 164th overall in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Gillislee started his professional career in the same state he had grown up in: Florida. As a Miami Dolphin, the rookie lined up in the backfield for just six snaps over the course of three games. He then missed the entirety of following season due to a pulled hamstring. The team eventually released him while he was on injured reserve.
“I learned a lot, especially feeling what I felt when I got released,” Gillislee said of the experience. “That really opened my eyes. You never know when it’s your last opportunity. So whenever you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage.”
After a brief stint on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, Gillislee joined the Buffalo Bills in 2015, signing the offer on his 24th birthday no less. Upon being called up to the 53-man roster in December of that year, he played in five games, rushed for 47 yards, and scored three touchdowns. Gillislee proceeded to double his stats the next season, which is by far the best of his career thus far. Playing in 15 games, he rushed for 101 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He also led the league in average yards per carry (5.7).
3. His hamstring has continued to nag him.
Gillislee’s training camp with the Patriots was marred by absences due to a reported hamstring injury, an ailment that resurfaced during the spring of last season. He missed over two weeks of practice in addition to the team’s preseason game against the Houston Texans.
Despite encountering issues with the same muscle early on in his career, the running back said he felt 100% once he returned to the field.
After a hamstring injury, Mike Gillislee says he's good now. Felt good to return to practice. "I was 100%" pic.twitter.com/L8OPYQrJuJ
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 22, 2017
4. He’s no stranger to a winning culture.
Despite coming from a team that hasn’t advanced to the playoffs since 1999, Gillislee isn’t intimidated by Bill Belichick’s notoriously rigid system that has led New England to five Super Bowls.
“It reminds me a lot of when I was in college playing under Urban Meyer,” Gillislee told reporters in his first media availability as a Patriot. “Just sticking to that plan to win, just paying attention to all the small details and executing.”
“It’s nothing I’m not used to,” he continued. “I came from the University of Florida and the expectations were the same, and this reminds me the same.”
The talent of his position group—highlighted by the likes of Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead—doesn’t scare him either. After all, he was a backup to LeSean McCoy for two seasons in Buffalo.
“Pretty much if you look at my history, that’s everywhere I went,” Gillislee said. “There was always competition, so I’m used to it. I look forward to competing with these guys here.”
5. He can bond with Tom Brady over experiencing a defeated season.
Although he was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, Gillislee’s top memory from DeLand doesn’t have anything to do with the accolades or the victories.
“We went 0-10 one year, and I just learned a lot about staying together and fighting to the end,” he told ESPN’s Reiss. “Even though we went 0-10, we never gave up each and every game.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady encountered a similar fate as a freshmen at Junipero Serra High, when his team went 0-8 and scored just two offensive touchdowns.