During Colorado’s first player-run practice of the summer on Wednesday, linebacker Addison Gillam hit the field for the first time since a knee injury ended his 2015 season prematurely.
Never one to go half speed, Gillam went all-out. Team trainers intervened and pulled him out.
“There’s nothing holding me back, but they don’t want to throw me in there and maybe something does go wrong,” Gillam said.
The last thing Gillam and the Buffaloes want is another setback. The past two years have been filled with them for Gillam, and he’s beyond ready to play a full, healthy season.
“It’s like a piece is missing, having fun out there and playing every game,” he said. “I can’t wait.
“It’ll be nice to have that feeling of overcoming all the stuff that’s been happening.”
As a true freshman in 2013, Gillam set a school record for tackles by a freshman (119). He became the first freshman to lead the team in tackles since the stat was first recorded in 1964.
In 2014, he still had a solid season (79 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), but dealt with health and personal issues throughout the season, which limited his effectiveness.
Last season, Gillam was off to a good start, but injured his knee in Week 2 against UMass and hasn’t played since.
Originally, CU had hoped Gillam would only miss a few weeks, but the injury didn’t recover as hoped. He not only missed the final 11 games, but all of spring, as well. It wasn’t until this week that Gillam was cleared to start running.
“It’s good. I feel like I’m on track,” said Gillam, who earned his degree last month. “My knee is feeling really good. There are a few positional things, movements that are kind of weird, but getting back into it will be good.”
Through it all, Gillam has had to fight off some frustration.
“Addison, the first time I worked with him, you could tell he was frustrated and he’s like, ‘I’m weak right now,’ ” said CU strength and conditioning coordinator Drew Wilson. “I said, ‘In three weeks you’re going to be stronger. Let’s look at the positive at how this is all going to take hold.’ ”
Gillam wound up having a great spring in the weight room, and Wilson said recently that Gillam often comes in on his own and puts in a good workout.
The 6-foot-3 Gillam looks as strong as ever, and earlier this week weighed in at 227 pounds. He and the Buffs would like him to be at 235 by the start of camp in August, with the projection that he’ll lose some weight and be able to play at 230 pounds.
While he hasn’t been able to work much on the field with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s system, Gillam said he’s confident in his ability to play in this defense and getting out there for a brief time on Wednesday was good.
“It felt really good, it felt natural,” he said. “Me and (senior Kenneth Olugbode) are still talking really well and communicating. It’ll be different once we start getting pads on and everything, but just having that base to go on from is going to help a lot.”
Everything seemed to come easy for Gillam back in 2013, but when he gets into camp this fall, he’s sure to have a battle on his hands just to get his starting job back. Last season, Rick Gamboa took Gillam’s spot as the strong side inside linebacker and became just the second freshman to ever lead the team in tackles.
Gamboa, Gillam and Olugbode will also battle senior Ryan Severson and newcomer Drew Lewis.
“I like the competition,” Gillam said. “I wouldn’t like it as much if I could go out there every year and not have to worry. I feel like that’s when people start to fall behind and start to lose a lot of their talents and little areas of their game. Having the competition pushing you, it makes everybody 10 times better.”
Competition is a big reason why Gillam is so excited about returning to the field this season. He said there’s much more competition throughout the whole team than there was in 2013, and the mentality on defense has changed dramatically because the Buffs now believe they can have success on that side of the ball.
“We just have to focus and do it,” he said. “I think a lot of guys are getting to that point and understanding it.”
Gillam can’t wait to get back on the field with his teammates and, frankly, he’s eager to hit somebody.
“I can’t wait,” he said with a smile. “I have my eye on a couple of people.”
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.