Former Westland football standout Reggie Gilliam has an opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream.
Following a strong finish to his collegiate career at Toledo, where he played tight end and fullback, the 6-foot-1, 255-pound Gilliam has been offered an undrafted free-agent contract by the Buffalo Bills, pending a physical. He said the Bills have indicated that he will compete for playing time at fullback.
"Growing up, I knew I wanted to play in the NFL, but as I got older, I realized that was less of a possibility," said Gilliam, a 2015 Westland graduate. "I started losing grip of that dream and then my junior year in high school I got my first college (scholarship) offer and then I thought maybe I can do something with this and from there I just ran with it."
With NFL activities on hold because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Gilliam is unsure when he will be able to take a physical and participate in the Bills' rookie minicamp.
"It's disappointing because that's what you dream of, getting picked up and going straight to that team to compete for a spot," Gilliam said. "It's all pushed back or canceled. When I finally get to put on pads, it's going to be a lot of fun."
Watching from his home, Gilliam hoped to be selected in the seven-round virtual NFL draft held April 23-25. Although his name wasn't called, he never lost faith that he would get a chance to play professionally.
Gilliam, who had been in contact with the Bills prior to the draft, said his agent received a call from Buffalo immediately following the draft.
"I thought I had a chance to get drafted," Gilliam said. "I watched it and had my phone nearby just in case. ... I was super excited. It's still the NFL, no matter how you get there. You have to get your foot in the door. That's all that matters."
That's the same approach Gilliam used at the collegiate level. He walked on at Toledo in January 2016, appearing in one game as a freshman and playing all 14 games as a sophomore to earn a full scholarship and a starting position at tight end for his final two seasons.
Primarily a blocking tight end, Gilliam had six receptions for 71 yards and three touchdowns and was named second-team All-Mid-American Conference as a junior in 2018 and had nine catches for 52 yards as a senior last fall.
Gilliam, who served as a team captain his junior and senior seasons, also was a special teams standout for the Rockets. He blocked two punts as a sophomore and led the country and set the program record with four blocked kicks as a junior. He also holds the program record for most career blocked kicks with six.
"Reggie left Toledo a better place than when he got here through infectious hard work and effort to make himself and our program the best it could be," Rockets coach Jason Candle said. "He was always a clear picture of what investment can do for you, and I think the best thing is, it was always about the team for him.
"When great players are selfless like Reggie was, great things usually happen and I am excited that he has the opportunity to chase his dream because he has earned it."
A two-time Academic All-MAC honoree, Gilliam was nominated for three national awards as a senior: the Campbell Award (top scholar-athlete), the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award (leadership) and the Burlsworth Trophy (most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on).
"Kind of like what I did going into Toledo coming out of Westland, everyone was telling me I should go to D-II, that I don't need to be a walk-on and spend a bunch of money," said Gilliam, who graduated last May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and is currently working on a master's degree in marketing. "I should go somewhere where I could get a scholarship and pay towards tuition, but I had a dream that I wanted to play D-I. I don't care what it takes, I want to do it."
A running back and linebacker at Westland, Gilliam capped his prep career by being named first-team all-OCC-Central Division and honorable mention all-district in Division I as a senior. That season, he rushed for 565 yards and eight touchdowns on 87 carries and had 18 catches for 280 yards and three scores.
"I miss playing running back, I miss Westland so much," he said. "I loved playing for Westland. Even though we didn't win a lot, it was still a lot of fun."
Gilliam remains in contact with former Cougars coach Kyle Goebbel, who guided the program from 2014-17.
"Ever since Reggie went to Toledo and just being on the team, I was constantly trying to promote that to our kids (at Westland)," said Goebbel, who teaches world history at Westland and is preparing for his first season as offensive coordinator at Thomas Worthington. "Here's a kid who has earned everything. He's done it the hard way. He stuck it out. To even think that he is going to be putting on an NFL uniform is just crazy."