Burlington's Sam Gillison overcame many obstacles to become a top Division III wide receiver, but like so many others, he'll have to wait for a chance at the next step
BURLINGTON, NJ: These are difficult times as we all know. There are people who are struggling with their health and many have died due to complications from contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus.
There are a record number of people filing for unemployment right now and small businesses will be struggling to stay afloat as this crisis rages on.But there are others who are also affected.
Recreational, high school, college, Olympic and pro sports are at a standstill. All organized offseason training for athletes at every level has stopped. Of course, athletes will try to train on their own, but it is not the same.
This time of year, pro football teams are going through the final rounds of tryouts, combines and pro days that are so important in evaluating players they want to bring to training camp.
Sam Gillison is just one of many athletes caught int the middle.
Gillison played high school football at Burlington Township High School and just finished up an outstanding career at Misericordia University. The Cougars compete in the Division III Middle Atlantic Conference.
He is not on anyone's mock draft board, but he believes he deserves a look from the pros.Gillison says he isn't ready to hang up his spikes. He would like to get a serious look from the NFL, Canadian Football League (CFL) or the XFL.
Gillison is not the type to give up even with the challenges COVID-19 has put in front of him and many other football players in his position.The 6-foot-1, 190 pounder overcame an ACL tear in high school to earn two varsity letters for the Falcons.
Gillison contributed his first season at Misericordia, appearing in eight games, recording 29 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown. He also had 35 yards on three carries and one touchdown.
His sophomore season was even better as he appeared in nine games, caught 50 passes for 582 yards and a team-high six receiving touchdowns (Most in a season in school history).
Gillison rushed four times for 30 yards. His 12 receptions against FDU-Florham tied him for the most receptions in a game in school history.
Gillison caught another tough break in training camp when he suffered an ACL tear in his other knee forcing him to miss the 2017 season. He would not let this get him down. Gillison not only recovered completely, he never looked back.
In 2018, he started all 11 games and was named second-team All-MAC. Gillison broke School single-season records for receiving yards (980) and receiving touchdowns (10).
In his senior season Gillison emerged as one of the top receivers in Division III football. As team caption, he earned first-team All-MAC honors and set school single-season record for touchdowns (11).
Gillison finished his college career with school career records for receptions (190), receiving yards (2,814) and receiving touchdowns (28). Gillison also broke the school record for most receiving yards in a game with 230 yards vs. Alvernia.
“I'm pretty confident in everything I can do,” Gillison said. “I wore the brace after each year I had the surgery. I was training a lot in the off season and built up that confidence. I did a lot of balance stuff. A lot of stability, a lot of bounce just so I could trust my knee...making cuts and pivoting. Once I got into the season, I didn't think about it.”
Gillison says he can make all the catches required to compete at the pro level.
“I can run deep, I can make possession catches, sideline catches, make people miss and be a red zone threat,” he said.with a smile “I'm confident in my abilities at this point. I feel I play a lot bigger than six foot.”
Dr. Sean McMillan, an orthopedic surgeon with the Virtua Medical Group and the doctor who performed the surgeries on Gillison, says he does not expect to see his former patient again, other than to see him play football.
“Sam is now three years removed from his last ACL surgery,” Dr. McMillan, said via email to Footballstories. “Watching him on tape he shows no signs of injury. His ability to cut and explode Are remarkable. He has no restrictions at this time and has worked so hard that if you did not know that he had the surgeries it would be near impossible to tell.
"Thanks to modern technology and rehabilitation protocols, we know that the ability to come back and play in the NFL after ACL surgery is extremely high. The benchmark for this has been set time and time again by current and former players and I believe Sam will continue to prove this out.”
Gillison traveled to Indianapolis and took part in the 2020 National Scouting Combine in February. He posted a 40-yard dash time if 4.5 which was better than several receivers' times who are expected to get drafted by the NFL between April 23-25.
But that was the only event he participated in that had pro scouts attending and used independent officials to time all the players.
During his conference call with reporters on March 25, Eagles Vice President Howie Roseman talked about this year's scouting challenges that are limiting teams from looking at small school players.
“One good thing is we're all dealing with the same rules,” Roseman said. “So, it's a level playing field. Whatever everyone else is dealing with we are as well. What we're trying to do is accumulate as much information as we possibly can and the one benefit that we have right now is that guys are willing to work, and dig deeper, spend more time than ever on these guys and trying to figure them out.
“But there are situations where guys didn't want to run the combine because they were anticipating running at their pro day or a guy who wasn't invited to the combine that we were interested in,” Roseman continued. “And maybe you don't have testing numbers on those guys...so I think you're going to have to balance the risk-reward in the draft process.”
The really tough part is how do the Sam Gillison's of the football world connect with teams when all the facilities are closed?
“I'll wait for this coronavirus thing to pass,” Gillison said. “I'll sign up for more pro days and exposure type of events to get me in front of everything as much as possible and see where it goes from there.”
He knows many other players are dealing with the same road blocks.
“Everyone is kind of a the same spot,” Gillison said. “Except the guys with agents. They're pretty much ahead, they're practically signed. Everyone else is grinding for a spot.”
Gillison said watching Eagles receiver Greg Ward come off the practice squad and blossom into a legitimate NFL prospect was inspiring.
“It definitely did,” Gillison said. “I just saw that it was possible. He comes from the FBS but it was still a smaller school (Houston). I figure everyone has their journey. He bounced around a lot, he stuck with it and finally got his shot. He didn't quit. So when an opportunity arises, just take advantage of it.”
When those opportunities will resurface remains to be seen. *
Note: Some statistical information taken from the Misericordia University athletics website.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii