There was no one more surprised to find out Sunday morning that Buffalo Bills fullback Reggie Gilliam was being rewarded with a two-year contract extension than Reggie Gilliam.
Seriously, he woke up in his dorm room and could not believe what his agent was telling him.
“Not at all; I was not expecting it at all, it kind of came out of the blue and I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it,’” Gilliam said with a big smile after the Bills wrapped up a training camp practice at the blast furnace that was St. John Fisher University. “Obviously it offers a lot of security, but it also offers the fact that they believe in me. And I’m out to prove them right.”
Which, of course, is all he knows because his extension, worth a reported $5.3 million, is merely the latest in a string of unexpected things that have happened to Gilliam along his football journey.
If you want a guy to root for, a guy who has had to scratch and claw for everything he has ever received, the 24-year-old from Galloway, Ohio is your man.
At Westland High School outside Columbus, the football team was terrible and even though he was the MVP and he made first-team all-conference, there were no college recruiters punching that address into their GPS.
“I won seven games my entire high school career, so, I was kind of like, college was a stretch,” he said. “About the third game into my senior year, I got a DM from a recruiter in Toledo. He hit me up and was like, ‘Hey, saw your film, had a really great game - we’d like you to come up for our walk-on day, and see the campus.’ So I came up and fell in love with the campus, and was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
All it takes is one, and Gilliam walked on to the team and eventually earned a scholarship in his third year. He played 40 games for the Rockets as a tight end, but he caught only 18 passes for 153 yards, so once again, he figured there was no way an NFL team would give him a look.
Further complicating matters, his pro day at Toledo in the spring of 2020 was canceled because of the just-starting pandemic, so Gilliam improvised. He bought a tripod to hold his iPhone so that he could record himself doing drills at the Toledo practice field, only to have school officials shoo him away because the campus was closed.
Everywhere he went in the Toledo area he was denied access, so he finally called the trainer he’d been working with in Pennsylvania to prepare for the NFL Draft to see if there was a place he could work out. There was, so he made the trip and got his workout on tape.
Not surprisingly, no one drafted him, but the Bills saw enough athleticism, either on that tape or on Toledo film, to give him a chance and signed him as an undrafted free agent in May 2020.
With the odds stacked against him, Gilliam made the team and for the past two years has played primarily on special teams while also taking snaps on offense in a hybrid fullback/tight end role.
“Yeah, it’s really been like that my whole life,” he said. “I feel like I’ve just kind of been that walk-on mentality forever because I’ve never been somebody’s first choice, you know what I mean? So I was like I’ve got to go and prove myself, and here I am doing the same thing.
“I was thinking about that this morning, ‘cause I walked on at Toledo, then coming out, my Pro Day got canceled, and I thought that was the end of the road for me,” he said. “And now, I’m at this point and I’m signing an extension, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I would have never thought back in 2020 I’d be signing an extension in 2022.’”
Man, what a ride.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 20, 2020
“I’m so gunned up for Reggie, one, just because he’s been such a great player for us, and then two, he’s just a great human being,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said. “I’m really excited for him and that opportunity and that possibility to continue to grow here with us and within our system.
“He’s done a great job and anything you ask him to do, he’s full bore going out there ready to do it. I mean, no matter what, he’ll go in there and play left guard if you ask him to and battle his tail off and that’s why I love the kid.”
Sunday, as he was signing autographs on his way to the interview tent, Gilliam - who defensive end Greg Rousseau called a “bowling ball” because he’s such a tough blocker - dropped some advice on a little boy.
“Just keep going, keep answering the bell, every single day,” Gilliam said on what advice he’d give to underdogs. “I didn’t do anything special, all I did was do what was asked of me. And that’s what I just told a kid over there, he just asked me, he was like, ‘Do you think I can make it to the NFL?’ I said, ‘Anybody can make it to the NFL, you just have to keep doing what you’re supposed to do, and it will come.’”
'The little muscle hamster': Isaiah McKenzie is poised to win the Bills slot receiver job
Elsewhere at camp
∎ The offensive line is starting to get healthy as Ryan Bates returned to work a couple days ago, and Sunday, veteran Rodger Saffold was activated off the non-football injury list and participated in his first practice. He had been sidelined with a rib injury suffered in a car accident a few weeks before camp.
∎ Wide receivers Khalil Shakir and Isaiah McKenzie both took Sunday’s no-pads practice off for what was described as general soreness. Also sitting out were center Mitch Morse, cornerback Taron Johnson, and offensive lineman Greg Mancz who was wearing some sort of arm brace from an injury that must have occurred Friday.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal's new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills training camp: Underdog Reggie Gilliams gets new contract