FRISCO, Texas — Eli Gillman is playing for the big prize here Sunday afternoon, but the young Montana running back was honored on championship eve with what he hopes is a slightly less-significant accolade.
Gillman was feted with the Jerry Rice Award as national freshman of the year during the annual FCS Awards Banquet on Saturday at Embassy Suites Frisco. A highlight video was shown of Gillman's sensational freshman campaign, which so far has produced 950 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, before he accepted the honor from Rice and FCS Stats Perform.
Additionally, Montana State quarterback Tommy Mellott accepted the Doris Robinson Award, which goes to the FCS player who excels on the field, in the classroom and across the community. Doris Robinson was the wife of late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson.
Mellott carries a 4.00 grade-point average in financial engineering among his several charitable contributions and excellent play on the field.
The remaining FCS honors for 2023 were also handed out; the Walter Payton Award for offensive player of the year went to South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski, the Buck Buchanan Award for defensive player of the year went to Tennessee State defensive end Terrell Allen, and the Eddie Robinson Award for coach of the year went to SDSU's Jimmy Rogers.
Of winning the Rice Award, Gillman said it was an important honor.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "I'm fortunate to have someone as great as Jerry to look up to, and (receiving the award) from Jerry himself, I'm just blessed."
Gillman and Montana are set to face Rogers, Gronowski and South Dakota State in the FCS championship game on Sunday at noon Mountain time at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
"The mindset tomorrow is just dominate and play Grizzly football like we know how," Gillman said. "One thing I'm proud of is how we tune out all outside noise and just play football like we know how to."
Mellott spoke about the traits and characteristics that drive him both on and off the field, which led to him winning his award.
"I've always been a huge advocate that every aspect of your life matters," he said. "Certainly what I've learned in the classroom and the skills I've learned and the discipline, it translates to the field. That mentality day in and day out of being consistent, it's every aspect of your life."