Chris Gillyard '08: Beyond the Game

Gillyard_erikMembers of the Zumbyes, Amherst’s all-male a capella group, describe Chris Gillyard on their Website as “The best thing since sliced bread. Seriously.” This might be an extreme way to describe a football player - but Chris does far more than just play football.

Over the past three years, Chris has barely made a dent in the Amherst football statistics. After his debut as a Lord Jeff, a game in which he ran the ball 10 times for 40 yards, he has totaled only 35 yards on one run and four receptions.

But his lack of stats is certainly not due to a lack of talent. After the 2004 season, Chris bulked up and the Jeffs were in need of a fullback, so the solution was obvious.

Obvious enough for the Amherst coaching staff, anyway. Chris was a full-time running back in high school, and he was not prepared to change roles. “It was frustrating at first,” says Chris, “and I even considered quitting. I loved the game so much, though, and couldn’t turn away from it. Eventually I grew into my new role, and it ended up being a good fit.”

Not only did Chris stick with football and take on a new role, but he became a captain and emotional leader for the Jeffs. “Chris is a great teacher,” says Amherst running backs coach Kevin Trigonis. “He works really well with the younger guys; they often go to him rather than a coach when they have questions.”

Head coach E.J. Mills adds, “Chris has a dynamic personality. He’s a team player, emotional leader, serious competitor and joy to be around; he really brings a lot to the field.”

But it’s more than just leading with attitude; Chris has become one of the finest fullbacks in the NESCAC and has played a vital role in the Jeffs’ having one of the most feared running games in the conference. “He’s a very explosive lead blocker,” adds Trigonis. “He does everything out there.”

Playing college football was certainly important to Chris, but it wasn’t the deciding factor in his college search. “I didn’t want football to be my life,” he explains. “I wanted to be diversified while at school, and Amherst certainly offered that diversity.”

To say that Chris is diversified is an understatement. When he’s not delivering punishing blocks for the Amherst running backs, Chris is serving as a Resident Counselor for Pond Dormitory, employee of Little Red Schoolhouse and Amherst Design Studio, and member of the Zumbyes and Amherst Theater and Dance group.

On average, Chris spends at least 20 hours per week on football, three hours at Little Red, and four hours at the Amherst Design Studio. His RC duties require only a one-hour meeting per week, but he is also responsible for tending to any problems in the dorm that come along.

Oh yeah, and he’s a college student with a 3.24 GPA working on a thesis. So, that’s another 12 hours per week going to class (bringing his weekly total to 40 hours), plus the time he has to put in toward stage managing and preparing for a play in the spring (Chris will be acting in “The Illusion” in February for his senior project, which will require significant preparation during interterm), as well as the usual homework.

It would be understandable if Chris did not have time for a social life, but this is not the case. “Being a football player alone involves a heavy workload,” says Brendan Horton ’08, Chris’ roommate and fellow member of the Zumbyes, “but he’s still very socially active and always makes time for his friends.”

Unfortunately, Chris’ busy schedule means that he can’t see his brother graduate from Coast Guard basic training or get home to Baltimore as often as he’d like to. “Still, my family and friends come to visit me,” says Chris. “That tends to break up my grinding schedule, so I really look forward to it. Plus, I make sure to find time to relax, whether it’s recording music or playing video games with my friends.”

It would also be understandable if Chris let his busy schedule get the best of him, but this is also not the case. “He could easily justify getting stressed out, but he never makes that excuse,” says Horton. “He doesn’t take it out on anyone - it really is amazing.”

Being the only Amherst football player to major in either Theatre & Dance or Asian Languages & Civilizations prevents Chris from being a stereotypical football player; everything else he has done has prevented him from being the stereotypical college student. “You can’t be afraid to try new things,” says Chris. “Your friends might not be doing what you’re doing, but you’ve got to realize that it’s your four years at school. You have to do what you enjoy.”

Simple enough. But Chris doesn’t just do all of these things; he fully commits and does them well. “A lot of kids like to think they’re busy and involved,” says Horton, “but nobody fully commits as much as Chris does.”

He doesn’t just have a brilliant voice; he practices with the Zumbyes for two hours, three times a week. He doesn’t just work at Amherst’s Little Red Schoolhouse; he loves working with kids and doesn’t want to get paid for it. “He really interacts well with kids,” says Mills, whose own children were fortunate enough to have Chris looking over them at Little Red.

And he didn’t just study abroad in Japan; he fully embraced the Japanese culture, learned to speak the language, and would like to earn the Amherst Doshisha Fellowship in order to return to Japan and teach English at a sister school.

But Chris doesn’t impress people with just his football skills, singing voice or ability to tackle several projects at once. Above all, people are impressed by how genuinely good a person he is. “He is disarmingly charming,” says faculty advisor Sam Morse, Professor of Art and Art History and Asian Languages and Civilizations, whose knee-replacement surgery last August left him in need of someone to help move heavy objects into his new home. Not only did Chris help move things like air conditioners and anything else too large for the professor and his fragile knee, but he did it with his “usual cheerfulness and charm,” according to Morse.

And it even goes beyond being a good person. The Zumbyes call him “grandpa,” partly because he’s the oldest member, but more importantly because he is looked up to by other members of the group. “He’s always the voice of reason,” says Horton. “People always go to him for problems. We should all be so lucky to know Chris.”

When Chris graduates in the spring, Amherst College will certainly have been impacted by his four years. “I’m happy with my time at Amherst,” says Chris. “I hope that I enriched the Amherst community as much as it has enriched me. I hope I was able to give back to the community with the many things I’ve done.”

So you might not see Chris in the stats or post-game stories this fall, but there’s a good chance you’ll hear his name again. But no matter how much you read or hear about Chris, or think you have an idea of how much he does at and for Amherst, you can’t truly understand how rare and gifted a person like Chris is. He is not just the ideal college student; he is the ideal person that many people aspire to be.

When asked if there is anything he would still like to do at Amherst, Chris thought for a second. “Yeah, there are some little things,” he said with a smile. “But I honestly wouldn’t have the time.”

Maybe he really is the best thing since sliced bread.