Part two of a two part series
In the first installment Idan Vinitsky looked back at how Massachusetts Pirates wide receiver Mardy Gilyard made his way from his high school days in Florida to the University of Cincinnati. The flamboyant speedster is known for being outspoken and passionate about the game. In the second part of this series, Vinitsky tracks Gilyard’s time in the National Football League and personal side, including his unique braided hair style that is complete with shells. Part two begins with Gilayrd being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2010.
"The vets won't touch my hair. That would make TMZ. They can do whatever they want, just don't touch the hair. There is a long story behind my hair and I take pride in it. Each shell signifies a person that I lost."
During his first practice in a St. Louis Rams uniform, just weeks after being the 99th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Mardy Gilyard was ready for some "Welcome to the league" pranks from the team's veterans, but after what happened with his college coach, he wanted to make sure nobody messed with his hair anymore. Maybe it was a good reminder of how things can come and go so quickly, and you find yourself facing adversity like you never thought you would, only to come out on top when it is all said and done.
Gilyard signed a four-year deal with the Rams, but was released from the team after his rookie year in which he had six catches for 63 yards and was mostly a speedy kick returner, averaging 22.3 yards per return. He signed with the New York Jets, but was waived five days later and joined the Philadelphia Eagles early in 2012. There, he played six more games before getting cut again, rejoining the Jets, catching his final two NFL receptions in the 2012 season.
He also had an offseason stint with the Kansas City Chiefs the next year, where he first met future Pirates teammate, Dexter McCluster. "I didn't leave the NFL under my own terms,” he admits. "I was injured and had to understand some things. With the Chiefs, I was in the best shape of my life. I was eating well, paying attention to everything that went into my body, I didn't party at all and then I got to camp, and hurt my back."
He moved to Canada, to play for Montreal in the CFL, but suffered another injury, this time, his hamstring. Then came another one, while playing in the arena league. It took Gilyard six frustrating years to really come back, to play at the level he knows he can, to be "a player that you have to prepare for, week in and week out", as he describes it.
When Pirates' General Manager Jawad Yatim contacted him through Instagram, Gilyard told himself "What the hell?" and "This is crazy". He thought someone was pranking him. "But then I saw how serious he was and I started to take the conversation seriously myself. I quickly realized that he was a young and hungry dude that wants to put the best product out there on the field, for the Worcester fans to enjoy. I wanted to become part of this growing family, an organization with values like the Pirates."
Eventually, it was a "no brainer" for Gilyard. He took the opportunity "because I wanted to show to everyone who thought I didn't have it anymore that I still do." With the Pirates, he is now the veteran, a leader on an off the field (but he is not cutting the rookies’ hair). He is one of the most experienced players on the team and a natural talent behind the microphone as well, according to some Pirates members.
"I'm shining these days, and I worked really hard during the offseason to make it possible. I knew that there is going to be a lot of pressure put on me, but I still haven't peaked." The stats make no room for error and show that Gilyard is one of the most prolific players in the National Arena League this season, a real offensive threat. He loves when rival coaches try to get to him: "This year, I have been hearing many Defensive Coordinators saying 'you won't be able to do your thing tonight' and this is what I have been working for; To terrify defenses."
The work is far from being done. Gilyard has big goals for himself in his first two years with the Pirates but says he still hasn't achieved them. First, he wants to play a full season, without any injuries. Then, he wants to lead the team to a title: "My work is starting to show now. When you have confidence in yourself and you know how good you are, you don't listen to all the talking around you. I know what I bring to the table and it motivates me."
When asked about a return to the NFL one day Gilyard said, "If I take my focus from our team, it won't be good. If the NFL wants me, I'll be happy to go back one day, but I know that I have to play great here first. If we win, maybe everyone will get calls from the NFL, but right now, I need to accomplish my goals here. I want to lead the NAL in receptions and kick returns."
So it appears, that at least for the near future, Gilyard isn't going anywhere, and if you need more evidence for that, just look at the Worcester Cowboys, the U-12 football team that recently, with Gilyard as one of its coaches, won the Central Massachusetts State Championship. Gilyard first came to see some practices and talk to the kids, but then quickly felt connected to the team and eventually, the coaching staff asked if he wanted to help. "I said 'sure' and everything was great from that moment. We had a fantastic quarterback, good players in every position and a tremendous head coach. For me, it has been an amazing experience, putting my knowledge to work."
Idan Vinitsky is a freelance writer and contributes weekly to the Massachusetts Pirates.
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