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Like Rudy did it
After years of gridiron persistence, Gillem earns spot on Vol varsity

Farragut High School’s own Rudy story has Adam Gillem in the real life role. Like his Notre Dame counterpart of the 1970s, Rudy Reneger, this overachiever has hung tough — taking beatings while getting chewed out for mistakes during Vol practices at Haslam Field and Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

But after three gut-check years, Gillem has earned his “stripes” as an official varsity member with The University of Tennessee Football team.

A 6-foot-1, 260-pound senior defensive end, “I guess I always felt a part of the team, but then I look and I see myself in the media guide as part of the varsity — it’s great to know that I’ll always live as a U-T letterman now,” said Gillem, a 2003 FHS graduate and standout Admiral lineman.

Though having dressed out for numerous home games, culminating in running through the famed Pride of the Southland Band’s “T” prior to kickoff, Gillem has never seen playing time.

“I hope to get on the field at some point,” the 22-year-old said. “Kinda make my Rudy story end just right.

“Coach [Dan] Brooks is pretty good to get his walk-on seniors in the game,” Gillem added about his position coach.

Nevertheless, “I’ve accomplished almost everything I want do to here,” he said. “I’ve made my parents [Larry and Debbie Gillem] proud. I’ve made myself achieve a goal — that’s something that I’ve dreamed since I was a child. Beyond that, everything else would be icing on the cake.”

Remembering his first venture through the “T,” Gillem added, “My dad cried.”

Looking back to rough practice days his freshman season, “I took on the football thing right out of high school, trying to do the school[work] as well,” Gillem said.

“You come out here and you get griped at from the coaches. You’re still a freshman going against guys that are about 50 pounds more than you, and you’re going, ‘what in the world am I doing? I’m not cut out for this.’”

However, “One of the things my dad taught me was to never quit,” Gillem added. “I’ve kept my commitment, and now I feel by the end of this year I can look back and say, ‘wow, I did it.’

“My parents were very supportive, very loving, very giving.”

As a freshman, “The major naysayers were the guys who were walk-ons who were seniors,” Gillem said. “For me, I was sitting there going, ‘this sounds awful.’

“Now I’m a senior encouraging these [younger] guys, ‘hold on, make friends with these guys, these can be some of the best times you’ll ever enjoy, the relationships you build out here,’” he added. “And just to be part of The University of Tennessee, this is one of the top-10 programs in the country.”

An exercise science major, Gillem is on track to graduate in December. The former Admiral standout said he is concerned about youth obesity, and wants to do something about it.

“Obesity in children has become a major problem in America right now,” Gillem said. “I feel a great passion, as far as society, about something that sometimes gets neglected.”

Gillem didn’t allow himself to be neglected on Rocky Top.


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