Gilliam carries load as Aberdeen back

October 01, 1995|By STEVEN KIVINSKI | STEVEN KIVINSKI,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Dondre Gilliam knows he is playing out of position at tailback.

With his soft hands, leaping ability and speed that can make opposing cornerbacks look like they're running on a treadmill, Gilliam realizes that he most likely will be moved to wide receiver at the collegiate level.

But for now, Aberdeen coach Kevin Reilly wants him in the backfield. He needs him where he can give him the ball, because when Gilliam touches it, good things usually happen.

"There are people with speed and people who can fly, and he can fly," said Reilly, who saw his senior tailback take off and return a kick 88 yards in an early-season loss to Oakland Mills. "Once he gets his shoulders turned toward the goal line and hits top gear, you're not going to catch him."

Many have tried, only to come up with air or a handful of grass and dirt. The 6-foot, 170-pound senior runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard -- and is a two-time state champion in the 200- and 400-meter --es.

His exploits on the football field and the track have gained him the attention of a number of Division I programs including Maryland, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Villanova and West Virginia and helped his team to a 3-1 record and a No. 8 ranking in the metro area.

"You can stop him for one or two plays, but you're not going to shut him down for long," said Eagles assistant coach Frank Sumpter, who convinced Gilliam to run for his indoor and outdoor track teams . "He finds one little crack [in the defense] and he's gone. He'll score from anywhere on the field, he doesn't care."

Gilliam played his first two years of high school football at Randallstown and was called up to the varsity one game into his sophomore season. John Buchheister, then coach of the Rams and now an assistant at Western Maryland College, believes Gilliam is a Division I prospect, "if he keeps his grades up."

"He was the best sophomore running back I had ever seen in my 16 years of coaching," said Buchheister. "He accelerated into the tackler and really came into his own. It was a shame he had to leave."

Gilliam's arrival at Aberdeen came with mixed reviews.

"Dondre had a little bit of an attitude when he came here but after joining the team and buying into Coach Reilly's team philosophy, his work ethic improved and he became an instant superstar for us," said Sumpter. "No matter how bad things might be going, we know that Dondre is going to excite everybody with a big run or a big play."

He did it last season and was named second-team All-Metro after rushing for 1,028 yards and 15 touchdowns. More importantly, it helped the Eagles go 9-2, beat perennial power C. Milton Wright and earn a berth in the state playoffs.

In his first four games this season, Gilliam scored eight touchdowns and rushed for 376 yards on 44 attempts for an 8.5 yards-per-carry average. He ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns in a 46-0 rout of Joppatowne and picked up 104 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in a 27-14 win over Havre de Grace.

From his position at defensive back, last year's Offensive Player of the Year in Harford County has been in on 23 tackles and has one interception.

"He can hurt you at any given time, anywhere on the field," said Sumpter. "He's like having instant offense. Just warm him up and he's ready to go."

Said Gilliam: "I just try to get what I can get. If I can't break it on this one, I'll try again until I do."

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