Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Receiver at home with Bearcats
Mardy Gilyard had lost his scholarship and was living out of his car just 18 months ago.
Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard is ranked ninth in the nation in kickoff returns, and leads the team with 10 touchdown receptions.
Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard celebrates a win over Syracuse that clinched the Big East title and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
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MIAMI -- From March through July 2007, Mardy Gilyard was a member of the city of Cincinnati's homeless population.
Well, Gilyard had a place to stay. He was sleeping in his car, which was stuffed with all his belongings.
Talk about running a deep down-and-out pattern.
"I was probably a bus ticket and $20 from coming home," Gilyard said.
The kid was broke. His football scholarship to the University of Cincinnati had been revoked for cheating in class. Fast-forward the calendar 18 months. Talk about rags-to-riches.
On Monday, there's Gilyard parked in a conference room of a posh five-star resort, holding court with the media covering Thursday's 75th FedEx Orange Bowl pitting Cincinnati (11-2) and Virginia Tech (9-4). UC's junior wide receiver and kickoff-return man extraordinaire couldn't wipe the huge grin off his face.
"Unbelievable, man!" Gilyard said. "As you say, it's like going from the outhouse to the penthouse because the Orange Bowl is definitely the penthouse.
"We're staying at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. I get doors opened for me, we've got robes in our room. ... All this is top notch to me, you know. I don't care if they had given me a bottle of water and a toothbrush, I would have been OK, you know.
"This is so lovely. It's, like, crazy. We see a new design of car every night here. It's not a Bentley, it's a Maserati."
Sure beats the digs in that old Pontiac Grand Am, a loaner from his fiancee's brother, that he slept in for four months.
"Oh man! Gilyard replied, nodding his head constantly in approval.
"We're so blessed to get here."
Back in August, few outside of the UC locker room would have expected the Bearcats to get here. And not that long ago, Gilyard never could have dreamed he would get here with them.
Gilyard, who starred in high school in Palm Coast, Fla., came to UC in 2005. After playing cornerback as a freshman, he failed a course and was declared academically ineligible. Then he lost his scholarship after he was accused by a professor of plagiarizing parts of an assignment. Gilyard denied cheating on a paper he said a bunch of Bearcats players wrote about a night in a Cincinnati jazz club.
He was evicted from his off-campus apartment for not being able to pay his rent, and wound up on the street.
"My mother and my fiancee, they didn't want me to go anywhere," Gilyard said. "My fiancee told me to stay strong, you're going to come through, you can't get down no lower. I did a lot of praying, praying and praying, and I came out on top."
Gilyard, who at one point worked four part-time jobs, paid all his debts. He performed several community service jobs, including working with young inner-city kids who were facing some of the same pitfalls he had encountered in his youth coming from a single-parent household in Palm Beach, Fla.
"I went from, I think, being a little, immature kid expecting everything to be given to him to this," Gilyard said. "I grew from a guy who didn't go to class, didn't want to practice ... and watching myself lose everything. It kind of opened my eyes up to everything."
UC coach Brian Kelly, who was hired in December 2006 after Mark Dantonio left for Michigan State, pulled the necessary strings to restore Gilyard's scholarship.
"We knew that Mardy was a young man who overcame a lot," Kelly said. "He did a great job with young kids in our city. It's just a great story how he's been able to turn everything around."
Not only has Gilyard transformed himself into a model citizen, he's become one of the leaders and key performers for an upstart UC club that also whipped the odds by capturing the Big East title. Gilyard has caught 74 passes for a team-high 1,118 yards and 10 touchdowns. He ranks ninth in the nation in kickoff returns (28.0), including two for TDs.
Senior Dustin Grutza, one of five quarterbacks used this season by UC, said it has been refreshing to watch Gilyard's incredible comeback story unfold.
"Mardy definitely has been through some crazy circumstances in his time here," Grutza said.
"He's really turned it all around, he's doing a great job in school now. It's great to see how he's matured in every way."
The ever-smiling Gilyard said he can't wait for Thursday night's game to get here.
"The big stage, ... the bright lights, ... this is the stage that every player wants to be," he said. "You feel like you're right there, like a rock star. ... You're everything that anybody ever wanted to be. Believe me, I'm going to feel at home there."