Former UF standout Gillislee ready for new role with Patriots

Hide caption Former Gator Mike Gillislee runs upfield during the second half against Miami (Ohio) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010. [GATEHOUSE MEDIA FILE] @zachdeanDBNJ

DELAND — If you ever have a question about the AFC East, running back Mike Gillislee is probably the guy to ask.

The former DeLand and Florida Gators star, was in town this weekend for his second annual youth football camp, signed with the New England Patriots in April after spending nearly two years with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.

This time, however, Gillislee admits things are a little different.

“It’s a different ballgame (in New England),” said Gillislee, who signed a two-year, $6.4 million contract with the reigning Super Bowl champions after the Bills declined to match their offer sheet. “They win here, so expectations are high. Practice, the weight room, how everything works is just different. I just have to bring that right attitude to work every day.”

After bouncing around between Miami and Arizona over his first two years in the league, Gillislee found a home in Buffalo in the middle of the 2015 season. Last year, the ex-Bulldog finally put it all together, rushing for nearly 600 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.

Despite splitting carries with Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, Gillislee became a fan favorite in Buffalo, earning the nickname “Touchdown Mike” midway through the season.

“I think it was just more opportunities,” said Gillislee, who played for DeLand from 2006-08 and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his final two seasons. “I just took advantage of them and played every play like it was my last.”

If the 26-year-old can put up those type of numbers as a part-time back, he could be in store for another career year this season, where he is expected to compete for the starting job on a loaded New England offense.

LeGarrette Blount, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, finished with over 1,100 yards and a league-best 18 touchdowns out of the New England backfield last season. Gillislee is expected to compete with returners James White and Dion Lewis, along with newcomer Rex Burkhead, for the starting spot this season.

“These kids out here, they see Mike as a role model for what can be done,” said DeLand head football coach Steve Allen. “To them, he could be a cousin, a neighbor, a friend of a parent, but he’s a real person. He’s somebody who is real to them. It’s not some far-fetched thing. He comes back here and he’s the real deal and it’s awesome.”

More than 200 kids attended Gillislee’s camp on Saturday, which took place at Spec Martin Stadium from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Among the NFL players who were also in attendance were San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, safety Don Jones and former Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who currently backs up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

The Patriots open training camp on July 27 and will begin their Super Bowl title defense on Sept. 7 against Kansas City.“I’ve come a long way,” […]