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CU football: After hard times, Gillam looks to future with excitement

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  • Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam set a CU freshman record with...

    Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam set a CU freshman record with 119 tackles in 2013 but has battled injuries since then.



In January, Colorado’s Addison Gillam wasn’t sure about his future.

He was almost positive, however, that he would not play football again.

“I took a month off (after the 2014 season) and just went to school,” Gillam said. “Toward the start of it, I was pretty set on not playing.”

Nearly a year later, Gillam’s future is still in question, but his mindset is completely different as he approaches a long offseason ahead.

After a sensational freshman season at CU in 2013, when he was named a Freshman All-American by numerous publications, Gillam has gone through two difficult seasons. He is determined to prove he can once again be a force for the Buffs.

“It’s one of the most important things to me,” he said. “I don’t want to be the guy that had a great freshman and … then what? I want to make sure I finish out strong and have good years.”

The past two years have not been good for Gillam, who set a CU freshman record with 119 tackles in 2013.

In 2014, Gillam put up solid numbers again (79 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), but to anyone who watched him play, he was not the same player. He missed only one full game, but was in and out of the lineup with various ailments. That alone would have been enough to drag him down mentally.

On top of it, though, Gillam’s family went through some issues back home in California. More than the injuries, that weighed on Gillam.

“It was hard because I was already going through all the injuries, and that brought me down,” he said. “Then having the family issues was another thing.”

Gillam spent a lot of time talking with his older sister and head coach Mike MacIntyre. He also said CU’s sports psychologist, Chris Bader, helped him quite bit.

Still, when Gillam returned to Boulder after the holiday break last winter he didn’t think he could play anymore.

“I’ve never gone through anything like that,” he said.

As spring ball approached and he saw his teammates more, the itch to play returned.

“I felt like I was letting them down and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “After being a captain, I felt like I had a lot of responsibilities.”

Gillam returned and spent the rest of the season getting healthy and learning the defensive scheme brought to CU by new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Gillam felt rejuvenated when this past season started.

“It was the first time since freshman year I was looking forward to playing and getting into games,” he said. “I was excited.”

Gillam opened his junior season with a good individual performance at Hawaii on Sept. 3. The next week, he was playing well against Massachusetts when disappointment struck again, this time in the form of an injury to his left knee.

He tried to return a couple of weeks later, but his body wouldn’t let him. Damage to the cartilage in his knee caused him to shut down for the season.

“Having to watch them out there every week sucked,” he said. “At least last year I was out there a little bit. This year, I just kind of felt helpless. It’s not fun.”

Gillam said he’s not allowed to start running until six months after his surgery, which was six weeks ago. That means he’ll miss spring practices and likely won’t be ready until the summer.

This time, however, Gillam’s taking a new approach to his adversity. He has no thoughts of quitting the game. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“I’m feeling good, excited to get back out there,” said Gillam, who expects to use this past season as a redshirt year, giving him two more to play. “It was a hard year, but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.”

Whenever he does return, Gillam expects to battle for his spot. Freshman Rick Gamboa filled Gillam’s shoes this year and led the team in tackles. Kenneth Olugbode and two other freshmen – NJ Falo and Grant Watanabe – will also be back in 2016.

“I like the competition,” Gillam said. “It always pushes me to work harder. I think I work pretty hard in practice, and I don’t think anybody can match my effort in games.”

More than anything throughout the past two seasons, Gillam has felt like he has let his teammates down, so it bothers him that he’ll miss the spring. A year ago, that was part of the stress that caused him to think of leaving football. Today it’s part of the fuel that energizes him.

Gillam has learned to deal with the family issues that weighed him down a year ago, and he’s on the path to physical recovery. The next step, he said, is to prove to himself and his teammates he can be the dominant player he used to be.

“In their eyes,” he said of his teammates, “I want to earn the job and earn their respect.”

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.

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