Brooks: Gillam, Daigh Have Mutual Admiration At MLB
BOULDER - After a breakthrough freshman season, Addison Gillam wasn't counting on a broken down sophomore year. Such is college football, and if Gillam isn't thrilled by it he at least can put it in perspective much better this November than last.
A day-to-day existence in football is nothing new for Brady Daigh. The senior from Mullen High School has been in and around University of Colorado football long enough to know when one player goes down, another rises up.
And at middle linebacker for CU over the last several seasons, that guy has been Daigh. If Gillam is the budding but injury beset star, Daigh is the backup extraordinaire. For two seasons, they have watched each other from similar vantage points, learning from each other while coming to appreciate the other's role at a shared position.
After leading the Buffaloes in tackles last season and earning a handful of freshman All-America honors, Gillam's name became an almost weekly addition to this season's injury list. There was the elbow in early August . . . then the AC (shoulder) sprain in September . . . then consecutive concussions in October . . . then a bout with bronchitis in November.
"I've never had a season as off-and-on as this one," Gillam told me on a frigid Thursday morning when the Buffs finished work inside their practice bubble. "My senior year (at Foothill High School, Palo Cedro, Calif.) I missed a couple of games after I messed up my foot. It was frustrating, but nothing like this."
It was the bronchitis that mostly caused Gillam to shed nearly 20 pounds, dropping his weight from 225 to about 205 before he began gaining some of it back. But it was the shoulder injury that he says disrupted his game the most.
A linebacker with an injured shoulder is as limited as a carpenter minus his hammer. "It just lingered," Gillam said of his shoulder ailment. "Every week it just hurt a little bit more and more . . . but now it's manageable. You can't avoid (using your shoulder) at this position. It's tough, definitely. The elbow at the beginning of the year, it was like nothing compared to the shoulder."
DAIGH HAS BEEN THERE, played with that. In the season's fourth game (Hawai'i) he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder and has been wearing a brace to keep the shoulder in place. It's worked . . . sometimes.
"It's been a pain for sure," he said. "You have to take on blocks a little differently - use a lot more head than shoulder. But wrapping up (on tackles), that's one of the tougher parts. Last week (at Arizona) I missed a tackle . . . I got off a block and stuck my left arm out there, but it pops out and it's tough to wrap up. But it's something you've just got to adjust to. It's football and everyone is kind of banged up at this part of the season."
As much as a middle linebacker can be, Gillam was a picture of health last season. He set seven CU freshman records last season, including most defensive snaps (838) which attests to his being nearly injury free. His 119 tackles, including 78 solo, were among his school marks.
Gillam was looking to raise the bar as a sophomore, picturing himself as an All-Pac-12 Conference linebacker and again leading the Buffs in tackles. He's played in nine of 10 games, but in some of those his effectiveness was clearly affected. With two games remaining, he's currently third in total tackles (60), trailing Kenneth Olugbode (67) and Chidobe Awuzie (64).
But Awuzie is out for the season with a lacerated kidney, and coach Mike MacIntyre said even though Gillam's performance at Arizona was limited (38 snaps), it hinted at a return to overall health. "I thought he played well last week," MacIntyre said. "He threw himself around and looked more like Addison, health-wise. He's doing better in practice so I expect him to finish the last two games off strong.
"He seems like his breathing is back under control. It's hard to play when you can't breathe real well with the bronchitis he had. But, he's looked good to me and it looks like he's closer to what he was at the start of fall camp."
Gillam's exasperation has been obvious to Daigh. "You get the little nicks during the season, but it seems that when something goes wrong it just kind of builds and builds," he said. "It's tough to see somebody miss games like that, but he's battling through it and still coming out and contributing. That speaks a lot for him and who he is."
And the way Daigh has filled in for Gillam speaks volumes for who he is. Daigh is seventh in total tackles (36, 23 solo) but tied for second in third-down stops with eight. As his final season trickles down, he's been rock solid. On CU's first defensive series at Arizona, Daigh made third- and fourth-down tackles inside the Buffs 3-yard line, forcing the Wildcats to turn the ball over on downs.
"He's been awesome," Gillam said. "He didn't get that much playing time last year, but he has in the last couple of games and he's really stepped up. The defense has been killing it and he's gotten third-down stops, goal-line stops. It's awesome to see him out there playing well. I pick up a lot of stuff from him - little things that his experience has taught him."
IF ANYTHING, DAIGH HAS learned to be prepared, heeding every coach's prompting that when your number's called, be ready to answer. "We emphasize staying ready because roles change," Daigh said. "I experienced that when I was a freshman and a sophomore, stepping in when Doug Rippy and Jon Major went down. I got playing time back then and it's helped me build on it now."
By next August, Gillam hopes to be bigger and stronger; defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kent Baer wants him at 230 pounds. "I'm looking forward to watching him next season when he comes back 100 percent," Daigh said.
One of Baer's goals for his entire defense is an increase in overall strength. He told me in August he wanted his linebackers to look the part and not resemble "divers" - lanky, athletic guys with nice physiques for aquatic sports but not so much for taking down 225-pound tailbacks.
Baer, said Gillam, "has been giving me a bunch of stuff since I've been here" about putting on weight. "I can do it; before I started my grayshirt year (after initially signing with San Jose State) I was up to 225. I can get there (230)."
Gillam also has a tendency to be his own worst critic, conceding that "I get in my head; things stick with me. I think it kind of helps me remember my mistakes, but I need to get myself out of that." Yet during games, he said he's able to let go of mistakes and concentrate on the next play. "I'm not one to dwell on mistakes then."
Before the Arizona game, Baer called Daigh "one tough guy . . . there have been times in practice when he's come off the field with his shoulder hanging. He gets to the sideline, pops it back in place and goes back out there. Tough, tough kid."
Said Daigh with a grin: "It's happened more frequently than I'd like . . . it hurts, but once it goes back in it's good. It's my senior season, so you've got to play. There's not that many more opportunities."
Gillam has two seasons left at CU to work on his mindset and reach a more ideal playing weight. Daigh has two games left at CU to add to a memory bank that is rich with relationships and experiences if not wins and bowl trips.
The Buffs' final two games - Saturday, Nov. 22 at Oregon, Saturday, Nov. 29 against Utah - "mean a lot to me," Daigh said. "One more away game, one more home game, one last time in Folsom. There's nothing like running out there behind Ralphie. I'm going to savor every bit of what goes on out there."