(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA — Montana freshman running back Eli Gillman has been a workhorse for the Grizzly offense this season, powering his way to 508 total rushing yards – the second-most in the Big Sky Conference.
He exploded on the scene in two games as a true freshman in 2022, scoring a touchdown in his collegiate debut against Eastern Washington while retaining his redshirt status.
Now the secret is out, and the FCS is taking note: Montana has one of the best running backs in the league. He just happens to be a freshman.
On Wednesday, Gillman was one of 22 players from around the country named to the watch list for the 2023 Stats Perform Jerry Rice Award, which honors the national freshman of the year in the Football Championship Subdivision and is presented by FedEx Ground.
After seven games, Gillman’s 508 rushing yards are the most of any freshman in FCS football and the second-most for a freshman in all of D-I football, trailing only Darius Taylor of Minnesota (530 yards) this week. Gillman’s season total also puts him among the top 25 rushers in the FCS in any class.
His six rushing touchdowns are also tied for the third-most among all players in the Big Sky Conference. With six catches for 45 yards, he’s sitting on 553 all-purpose yards as the Griz rest up during the bye week.
With four regular-season games remaining, he needs just 295 more yards to post one of the top 25 rushing seasons in Grizzly history. He also needs just six more rushing TDs to enter his name on that top 25 list.
Gillman has already etched his name into Montana’s record book, however, when he broke loose for an 85-yard touchdown run at UC Davis, the longest in Montana history by four yards. He’s had five games of 78 yards-plus rushing yards this season, including his career-high 119 on 19 attempts against Butler.
The Rice Award, now in its 13th season, is named after legendary Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.
Three Grizzlies have been finalists for the honor in that time. Record-breaking receiver Jerry Louis-McGee was in the running in 2016, quarterback Gresch Jensen was on the list in 2017, and Robby Hauck, Montana’s all-time leading tackler, was a finalist in 2018.
Past recipients include Cooper Kupp, Chase Edmonds, Trey Lance, and Shedeur Sanders.
To be eligible for the Jerry Rice Award, a freshman must be in his first or second academic year without surpassing four games played in the previous academic year – comparable to the NCAA’s regular redshirt rule.
More players can join the watch list before a national media panel selects the winner following the regular season.
Also this season, Stats Perform will present the Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year), Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) and FedEx Ground Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year at its annual awards banquet.
2023 Jerry Rice Award Watch List
Marqui Adams, Delaware State, QB, 6-1, 175 (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)
Camden Coleman, Richmond, QB, 6-3, 220 (CAA Football)
Quincy Craig, Portland State, RB, 5-9, 185 (Big Sky Conference)
Champ Dozier, Houston Christian, RB, 5-8, 180 (Southland Conference)
MJ Flowers, Eastern Illinois, RB, 6-1, 195 (Big South-OVC Football Association)
Syeed Gibbs, Rhode Island, DB, 6-0, 180 (CAA Football)
Eli Gillman, Montana, RB, 6-0, 206 (Big Sky Conference)
Carter Glassmyer, Saint Francis, LB, 6-1, 210 (Northeast Conference)
Malachi Hosley, Penn, RB, 5-10, 185 (Ivy League)
Brendan Jenkins, Samford, WR, 6-1, 200 (Southern Conference)
Jaylon Joseph, Lafayette, DE, 6-2, 240 (Patriot League)
Alex McLaughlin, Northern Arizona, DB, 6-2, 190 (Big Sky Conference)
Mack Mikko, Presbyterian, PK, 5-8, 175 (Pioneer Football League)
Zach Mitchell, Southern Utah, WR, 5-11, 200 (United Athletic Conference)
Connor Moore, Montana State, LT, 6-5, 306 (Big Sky Conference)
Tye Niekamp, Illinois State, LB, 6-3, 230 (Missouri Valley Football Conference)
Marco Patierno, Elon, LB, 6-0, 225 (CAA Football)
Aaron Sears, Stephen F. Austin, CB, 5-10, 190 (United Athletic Conference)
Beau Sparks, Utah Tech, WR, 5-11, 180 (United Athletic Conference)
Tak Tateoka, St. Thomas, QB, 6-3, 196 (Pioneer Football League)
VJ Wilkins, Campbell, WR, 5-10, 160 (CAA Football)
Ty’Jarian Williams, Mississippi Valley State, QB, 6-3, 240 (Southwestern Athletic Conference)