With the return of internet access to the Macon metro area Sunday, I was pleased to learn of Valdosta linebacker Michael Gilliard's commitment to the University of Georgia. Gilliard is listed variously at anywhere from 6'1 and 200 lbs. to 6'3 and 205 lbs to 6'2 and 208 lbs. Gilliard is rated a 4-star prospect by Rivals and a 3-star by Scout. Rivals pegs him as the 19th best player in the Peach State for the class of 2009, for what that's worth.
Everytime I think we're done signing linebacker-ish prospects for this class the coaches prove me wrong. So I'm not about to say Gilliard is the last linebacker in this recruiting class. I will say however that I think either he or Dexter Moody ends up at safety, and that Chase Vasser may well end up at defensive end. Gilliard looks more natural at linebacker now than Moody, and is probably a better tackler. Moody looks better in coverage, so I'm guessing he moves. Shawn Williams is also a bit of a tossup, though I think he stays at safety at least for the time being, though a move to will linebacker is possible if he fills out some.
I know that Gilliard is not the most highly touted prospect out there right now, but I'm guessing he moves up, for several reasons. One is that he's playing under former Washington County coach Rick Tomberlin. Tomberlin (aside from being the high school football coach from central casting, by virtue of his buzzcut and square jaw) has coached some unbelievable football players. He coached some linebacker from Sandersville named Takeo Spikes*, who turned out ok. There were also two guys named Robert Edwards and Jesse Miller. They weren't bad, either. Neither was Terrance Edwards, another Tomberlin player. So when Coach Tomberlin says Gilliard is a good one, that's high praise.
Also, Tomberlin has been busy at Valdosta building a strength and conditioning program to rival the one he had at Washington County, which was among the best in the state. Thus, Gilliard is bound to report in good shape, and already looks pretty solidly put together.
I'm also encouraged by the fact that Gilliard is playing in Region 1-AAAAA, perhaps the toughest region in the state of Georgia and one of the toughest in the southeast. When you throw people around in that region, playing against the likes of Lowndes, Tift County, and Coffee County, you're doing something impressive.
And, as I like to point out, the offer list is important. A lot of very good football coaches seem to think this guy is going to be a very good football player. Gilliard chose Georgia over offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Miami, Alabama and FSU among others. Again, if this young man doesn't pan out, it not only means that Mark Richt and his staff were wrong, but also that Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez, Urban Meyer and Les Miles were wrong. That's pretty unlikely when you get right down to it.
Now to to the tape. You can find a brief highlight video of Michael Gilliard here . You'll notice right away that the guy's a thumper. He's willing to come up and hit somebody. I would not be at all surprised to see Gilliard grow into a run stopping middle linebacker. He also has decent feet; quick but not choppy. I like linebackers who don't tap dance around, because it just slows them down. In the Gainesville Nike Camp video he does get a little crossed over in pass ocverage, but that's only one play so I can't draw too much of an inference from it.
Gilliard also seems to have good instincts from what I can see in the short highlight clip. In one play for example he appears to be coming on a blitz (maybe a run blitz, but I can't be certain) when he sees the quarterback dropping to pass. He turns and books it toward the receiver the quarterback is locked on and beats the secondary guys to the tackle. That takes quick reaction.
Gilliard reminds me a little of 2007 recruit John Knox. He's not going to be the most decorated recruit we sign this season. But he has good technique, he's physical, he plays smart and he'll develop physically. He also isn't scared to compete. Gilliard said that he looked at our depth chart before committing, then noted that "I am not trying to be cocky or anything, but I think I can go in there an outwork them. I’m confident. I think I am the best.” I like that a lot. This guy is a solid pickup.
*When I say Spikes wasn't bad, let me be clear: he was the only player in the state of Georgia during my high school career who I literally feared. The guy threw opposing players around like pickup sticks. When I hear someone utter the phrase " a man among boys" ,I still think of Takeo Spikes.