Updated: Feb 27
On Tuesday June 7th the QB Velocity team was able to have a conversation with former NFL Wide Receiver Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard played Football for the University of Cincinnati and was a Fourth Round pick for the St. Louis Rams.
Mardy Gilyard has also played in other leagues and has had much success. He is now on the Massachusetts Pirates and is the Defensive Backs coach for the Nichols College Bison. Gilyard was open and honest about the highs and lows of his Football career. From being a new coach to being a professional athlete Mardy Gilyard has done it all. Let's dive in to this interview!
How did you fall in love with football? What impact did it have on you as a kid? What was it like growing up in Florida and what was your HS experience?
“I was in love with basketball as a kid, it was the first thing I picked up. I was extremely good, and I came from a very athletic family. Everyone around me played football and I dropped basketball to become like Barry Sanders, I wanted to play football. I played flag and lit it up! I was an instant success and it just clicked on the field. Tackle came along and I lied to my mom; I forged my mom’s signature and signed all the papers to play. I told her I tried out for the team and I wanted to see how good I was, and they picked me, and it cost $80! She found out I lied when she showed up to practice and got all the paperwork back and saw her signature all over the paper. She didn’t truly punish me, she laughed at me but told me to never do that again.
Time went on in my first season and the contact took a toll on me, I wanted to quit, and my mom wasn’t letting that happen to me. She told me she didn’t raise a quitter and I stuck out. I went from fullback, to halfback, to quarterback and was destroying our opponents. I really lit it up when I was a freshman in high school, I was killing it on Junior Varsity and our starting running back got hurt. My coaches moved me up for an easier game to get my feet wet and I had 130 rushing yards and 40 yards per kick returns. The coaches saw my potential and wanted to keep me in to get more comfortable with the game. The first day of school sophomore year I got arrested for federal drug charges, I was expelled from school and I was expelled from every high school in the county, how am I supposed to go to school?
I gave up football for now, but I realized I was a normal smart kid who just messed up once, I wasn’t a bad kid doing bad things. I got straight A’s at my new alternative school but still couldn’t play football, so I ran track, but I was kicked off the team for being lazy. It was embarrassing to go to alternative school, so I worked as hard as I could to get back to regular high school. Once I got back to school, I was determined to get back on the field and do something special. I rushed for 1,608 yards which was never done at my school and rushed for 28 touchdowns. That record still stands today and it has already been 17 years. Football came easy to me and my first Division One offer was from the University of Pittsburg and all the letters started coming in. Senior years came around and I blew out my elbow at practice. It was torn, dislocated, and was going all different directions. I was born to play this game though; I overcame a torn/dislocated shoulder as well as a car accident. I came back sooner and expected, and I played as hard as possibly could. I gave it everything I got for my senior year on the field!”
What made you choose the University of Cincinnati? Any advice for athletes going through the recruiting process?
“The more you can do on the field, the better off you are. I was equally good at returning kicks, I had strong hands and was a strong receiver, and was a very discipline defensive back. Playing all these positions really helped me understand the game as a whole both offensively and defensively. It makes all the coaches open their eyes, very valuable.”
What was it like being a part of the #3 team in the country as well as being such a big role to the team's success? Do you feel your legacy was left at the University of Cincinnati?
“We went from being horrible to the best recruiting class Cincinnati has ever seen. We were just a bunch of guys who were all very talented that all committed to Cincy. The number one defensive player in the nation committed to Cincinnati, I was the number three running back in Florida, the number one player from Missouri signed, the number one athlete from Pennsylvania signed, we had a bunch of studs were a lot of talent. Connor Barwin and Jason Kelce were a part of that class. 28 of us were true freshman and we all played and made a difference. I got kicked out of school sophomore year again just like in high school. I was able to practice but I wasn’t able to play and I was mad at myself because I was lockdown. I was homeless and it was a long 7-8 months, I was evicted and was working 4 jobs living out of my car. I was a long time, but I was able to pay back my bill and got Coach Kelly to sign me back with scholarship.
I was switched to wide receiver and was given a lot of responsibility. I think it was from what I went through that helped me mature and I told myself once I get football back, I am never letting it go ever again. It gave me a drive to get better and it did help me, I didn’t miss a team lift or meeting. I would workout in my construction clothes and then I would hit the field and not worry about a thing. I had to learn wide receiver, but I hated it at first, but I knew I could adapt. It was totally different, but I was beyond grateful to play again and would do anything for the coaches and for the team. I was terrible at first, I was all jammed up and only caught 36 balls, but it was my first time playing that position. My teammates were there to keep my head up and critique me enough to get me better. I kept working and I had to stay on the field; I went from 36 catches to 87 catches my junior year and I was an All American. I was the most dangerous man in college football.”
Preparing for the NFL Draft, what was that like? How did it feel when you got drafted, seeing your name called on the draft board?
“I was thinking about going to the NFL my Junior year, but I was told to stay one more year to raise my draft stock. I thought about it and I stayed for my senior year and started training for the draft. I was a top pick for the Senior Bowl, and I balled out, I was the MVP. I trained at Cliff Marshal and Ignition Training and he taught me so much, he helped me understand what my body was doing. He taught me how to train, how to get even faster, what diet and supplements to take, and so on. I was expected to be drafted by the Bengal's, but all the teams were talking to me and the reality of being takin in the first round was real. I was staying home on draft night to be with my Mom and my whole family. I wanted to be home with everyone who is important to me and I just wanted to be me. NFL Network sent me down a whole camera crew to follow me around for the draft and it was something I have never seen. They were all over my town just following me around.
Time went on and the draft started, the first round went on and Brandon Lafell was one of the first receivers to go, now I was waiting for me to go but a story came out about me being gang affiliated and it affected me in a very negative way. My stock dropped and now teams were hesitant to pick me, I saw Dez go and now I was hoping my time was coming soon. The Bengals were up, and I was expecting them to take me, but they took Jordan Shipley instead of me. I was so frustrated at that pick, I thought it was going to be me and I knew I was better than him. I was working out with Carson Palmer and there were ‘Draft Gilyard’ jerseys all over Cincy, I was crushed I wasn't picked by them. I was the most dangerous man in college football, and someone has to take a chance on me sooner or later. I decided to leave and go fishing with my brother instead of watching the draft and I received a phone call from Missouri (I didn’t know St. Louis was in Missouri) and it was Steve Spagnuolo. They took me 99th overall and it took me back to 1992 at my family reunion and I told my family I am going to play in the NFL.
I was beyond thankful the Rams took the risk on me and I made my dream come true, I was in the NFL. What I do is what the good Lord put me on this Earth to do, play football. I drove down Riverside (the main drag from my hometown) and I was heading to my Grandma’s house and there was a sea of people. All those people were there for me and celebrating me getting drafted, I made that town stand still and no crimes happened in those hours. It brought me to tears, there was no racism or hate because of me for that short time. That was better than seeing my name going across the board.”
Did you have a welcome to the NFL moment?
“When I first got to Rookie Camp, I lit it up. I was very cocky because I knew how to play these other rookies because I did this in College and the Senior Bowl. Once I got to Mini Camp with all the players, I was thinking it was going to be easy. These NFL players were not playing in 100-degree two a day practices, so I was ready for this walk in the park. What I began really struggling with was understanding all the concepts of the playbook. I had a hard time understanding all the plays and all the routes at the time which hurt me in the long run. I could have been more as an NFL player and I could have been more for Sam Bradford. We were drafted together, and we were supposed to grow and dominate together. I will forever hold this over my shoulder because Sam was a hell of a player and a leader. All he wanted me to do was study and my pride got in the way, but at the same time I didn’t know how to study.
My Rookie year versus me now in my tenth year, it is light and day. I know everything about my opponent three weeks before we play them. I want to know the schedule as soon as possible so I can study them, and I can find out all the weaknesses. This also helped me prepare for the actual game by taking a lot of stress off my shoulders, being this prepared for a game made my life easier and made me all that much better. Now playing for the Mass Pirates, Sean and I spend all this time together to be on the same page as well as find all those weaknesses so we can expose them. I was a sponge and wanted to soak all this information up. Later in my career I had become more of a vocal leader because I believed in myself and my team. When I talk on the field I always back it up and being through the NFL I know how this is a business, they will chew you up and spit you out with no remorse. Becoming that leader helped me show who I am as well as show the team what I have. I know a lot about this, and I need to show all the secrets to everything I know.”
What made you get into coaching?
“My love and success for this game pushed me to become a coach. If I don’t pass what I got to someone then I am a bad and selfish person. I have knowledge to teach others but don’t because they are greedy and selfish. I will be damned if I don’t give back what I know to this game. I am seen as the GOAT at Cincinnati, I am talked about like Oscar Robertson and Kenyon Martin. I had all this knowledge I want to pass it on, and Coach Rob Orell wanted me to apply for the position at Nichols. I told Coach Rob I was ready to go and I prayed I got this position. I wanted to get into coaching, and I knew starting at Nichols was that opening I was looking for and would be the step in the door. It was an eye-opening experience at first understanding how to coach with everyone else at Nichols. I didn’t know the culture changing that was going on at Nichols and Coach Olmsted told me all the struggles through the years. We were heading in the right direction and I am thankful for this position, I was ready to start helping out as much as I could, and all the other coaches were there to help me as well. I learned so much from them and I am super grateful for working side by side with all of them. They made it easy to coach and it also helped that all the players were super coachable and understood the game.”
From a coach standpoint, What advice do you have to receivers? DBs?
“Never stop working! I had an old tire, a rope, and a dirt and I was out there every day working.” Never be satisfied and never stop working.”
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