Gilliam went down in the second half against Utah State and didn’t return to the game. Redshirt freshman left tackle Brett Kendrick filled in for the remainder of the game.
Kendrick will compete with freshman Coleman Thomas and junior college transfer Dontavius Blair – all of whom have seen at least some first-team reps in practice or a game – to take over Gilliam’s spot. Jones wants Gilliam, a fifth-year senior, to stick around the team as much as possible, even though his UT career could be over.
“Our players want him around,” Jones said. “They wanted to already move his locker to be close to the other tackles. That’s kind of the mindset of this football team right now. They’re thinking about this game and their teammates right now.
“He’s put a lot of hard work and effort and commitment into it. It will serve him for years down the road. Obviously, you would expect him to be disappointed.”
Jones said they will evaluate all options in terms of trying to find Gilliam an extra year of eligibility through a medical hardship, but they’re not sure that will be able to happen. Gilliam redshirted his first year on campus and it would take a special waiver from the NCAA for him to be able to return in 2015.
There’s no way around saying that this is a really, really tough break for Gilliam. The Farragut product begun his career as a walk-on and he recently told RTI that he was so low on the depth chart that one strength coach refused to learn his name because he thought he would quit. Even through two shoulder injuries, he’s improved as a player, earned a scholarship and was in position for a strong senior season.
“It’s been really special, obviously,” Gilliam told RTI during camp. “I came here under a different coaching staff and just kind of worked my way up through a few different offensive line coaches and two different head coaches and just reproving yourself that many times has been tough, but I’ve built myself because of it – rebuilt my game, improved some stuff every time with different techniques. It’s been a lot of fun going from the lowest guy out there to the top guy.”
Hopefully the NCAA will use some common sense and grant him that extra year after he only played approximately 40 snaps in the first game of his senior year.