CollegeMontana Grizzlies


Montana running back Eli Gillman wins Jerry Rice Award

Sac State at Montana
Posted at 9:26 AM, Dec 06, 2023

(Editor's note: University of Montana news release)

In a program like Montana’s with such a rich history of running football and an even richer history of overall success, the simple fact that Eli Gillman has become the Grizzly starting running back is surprising in itself.

Think of all the greats who had to bide their time before spearheading Montana’s rushing attack. Names like Jordan Canada, Lex Hilliard, Chase Reynolds, and Yohance Humphrey top the record book, and none got the chance to do what Gillman has done…

Lead the team in rushing… as a freshman.

But not only has he led the team in the run game, with 899 yards to date he’s also one of the top three overall rushers in the Big Sky Conference (at any age) and the third-leading freshman in all of Division-I football. FCS, FBS, all of it.

Gillman is a true breakout story, and in recognition of his efforts Stats Perform announced on Wednesday he is the 2023 recipient of the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the national freshman player of the year and is presented by FedEx Ground.

Gillman was a runaway winner of the 13th annual award, named after legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice, who starred at Mississippi Valley State as part of his Hall of Fame career. A national, 56-member panel voted on the award, with Gillman’s 203-point total No. 1 among 22 finalists, and nearly 100 points more than the runner-up.

As the winner, Gillman will be celebrated at the Stats Perform FCS National Awards Banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas – the eve of the FCS championship game. In addition, the winners of 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 Award will be honored at the banquet.

“I'm really excited for him to win the Jerry Rice Award. I think it's well deserved and a great honor for our program and for Eli,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck.

“Eli's a terrific young man who does everything right on and off the field. He's a pleasure to coach, he's a great teammate, and he's an outstanding running back. His physical style of running and production has helped us be the number two team in the nation at this point.”

Gillman’s 899 yards on 165 attempts currently stand as the 18th-best single-season rushing performances in program history among all players and are the most of any freshman in team history.

The native of Dassel, Minnesota, also caught 11 passes for 103 yards and even returned a kick for 19 yards to total 1,021, the 11th most all-purpose yards in the Big Sky.

He’s had three 100-yard rushing games in his first season in the Grizzly lineup and missed out on a fourth by three yards at Portland State. His 10 rushing touchdowns are tied for the fifth-most of any individual in the Big Sky as well.

Gillman has already entered Montana's record books, breaking free for the longest touchdown run in program history at UC Davis from 85 yards out.

At the conclusion of the regular season he was named the Big Sky Freshman of the Year and earned a place on the second all-conference team. He was also honored by his peers as the winner of the 2023 Terry Dillon Award for the team’s outstanding back or receiver at the Grizzly Awards Banquet.

The Jerry Rice Award’s rich history of recipients includes Cooper Kupp, Chase Edmonds, Trey Lance, and Shedeur Sanders. To be eligible for the award, a player must be considered a freshman athletically by his conference in his first or second academic year.

2023 Jerry Rice Award Voting Results

1. Eli Gillman, RB, Montana: 31-6-6-2-2-203

2. MJ Flowers, RB, Eastern Illinois: 6-11-6-10-7-119

3. Jawarn Howell, RB, South Carolina State: 6-6-2-10-1-81

4. Tye Niekamp, LB, Illinois State: 3-6-8-3-6-75

5. Griffin Woodell, RB, UAlbany: 3-4-8-5-2-67

6. Conner Moore, LT, Montana State: 2-3-6-6-6-58

7. Jaylen King, QB, Gardner-Webb, QB: 2-6-4-3-5-57

8. Carter Glassmyer, LB, Saint Francis: 0-5-4-6-9-53

9. Beau Sparks, WR, Utah Tech: 1-3-4-3-7-42

10. VJ Wilkins, WR, Campbell: 0-3-1-0-1-16

11.(tie) Hunter Green, PK/P, Northern Colorado: 0-0-2-2-4-14

11.(tie) Malachi Hosley, RB, Penn: 0-3-0-1-0-14

13. Jaylon Joseph, DE, Lafayette: 0-0-3-1-2-13

14. Anthony Johnson, WR, Stony Brook: 1-0-1-1-1-11

15.(tie) Dom Nankil, QB, San Diego: 1-0-0-0-1-6

15.(tie) Ty’Jarian Williams, QB, Mississippi Valley State: 0-0-1-1-1-6

17. Owen Zalc, PK, Dartmouth: 0-0-0-1-1-3

18. Brendan Jenkins, WR, Samford: 0-0-0-1-0-2

19.(tie) Gavin Lochow, WR, Dayton: 0-0-0-0-0-0

19.(tie) Rasheed Lovelace, DT, Nicholls: 0-0-0-0-0-0

19.(tie) Aaron Sears, CB, Stephen F. Austin: 0-0-0-0-0-0

19.(tie) Luke Yoder, RB, Lehigh: 0-0-0-0-0-0

A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote four points, a third-place vote three points, a fourth-place vote two points and a fifth-place vote one point. The final number is the combined point total.