After a record-setting football career at Elko High, Tim Gilligan Jr. overcame the odds to go from walk-on to star at Boise State.
Following a senior campaign in which he was named a first-team All-WAC receiver and second-team all-WAC punt returner, the 5-8 Gilligan signed a free agent contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Gilligan spent his rookie season as a return specialist and came out of training camp this year as a starting wide receiver before being injured in the season opener.
The Free Press recently caught up with Gilligan, who is hoping to be back in the Alouettes' lineup soon.
EDFP: While you had two receptions and your team won its opener June 22, you separated your shoulder in the game. What's the status of your injury?
Gilligan: It was a full separation. Basically, right now, it feels good enough to play in a game and to take a hit. I'd wear a pad on it if I were to play. But the thing with these injuries - especially the first time you injure something like that and you've never had it - you want it to heal all the way. Because that joint, if you don't let it heal all the way and you keep getting hit on it and it keeps coming out, it'll come out of the joint the rest of your life.
EDFP: So, what's the prognosis for you being back on the field?
Gilligan: I'm healthy enough to play. It's strong enough to take a hit and things like that so I have been practicing and trying to get back on the field. But as of right now, there's no spot on the roster because of the Canadian-U.S. ratio. There's a certain ratio of Canadians and Americans that need to be on the field at the same time.
I feel like I could contribute to the team and have a great year. But as of the way things are right now, I'm probably going to have to be a role player. I'm just going to have to wait for my spot to open up, wait for injury as bad as that sounds. You know I don't wish injury upon anybody at all, but that's the way some people get their breaks is someone gets injured and people going in there and playing well and that's how they get a spot. Since I got injured, that's the way it's going to have to happen for me.
EDFP: The injury obviously derailed your plans a little bit, but how is your situation as a player different this season compared to being a rookie last year?
Gilligan: It's way different. I didn't go to camp last year. I showed up like the third week of the season, so obviously I missed a lot of time to become knowledgeable of the offense. So last year I basically came in, played a couple of games at returner and, offensively, I wasn't able to get any knowledge in and gain that trust with the offensive coordinators and quarterbacks and other teammates.
This year I came in and had a great camp and had a starting position. I think I'm 180 degrees a totally different player than I was last year. I wish circumstances were different and stuff like that, but me being at camp and getting the opportunity to show that I can play - and I had great scrimmage games - it showed the coaches that they can trust me and that they can throw me in at any position whenever they want.
EDFP: How does the Candian Football League game differ from the college game or the NFL?
Gilligan: So much faster. Yeah, you're playing with grown men and it's a professional league and people are faster in general, but the 20-second play clock is so fast. You finish the play and you might have time to mabye - depending on how far you are away from the ball - walk back to the huddle. But once you get back to the huddle the play's being said and you're breaking and it's time to run toward the line of scrimmage because that 20 seconds is already up.
But also at that time you need to read the coverage, find your landmarks on where you need to be on this route and remember the snap count as well. So there's a lot of things that go through your mind in that 20 seconds.
EDFP: That's a quick turnaround.
Gilligan: It goes very, very fast. That's one of things I'm still trying to get used to. No matter what you do to prepare yourself for that, you just can't be ready for that. It's a totally different game speed and it's pretty humbling.
EDFP: You talked about differences on the field. How does life in general differ living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, compared to Boise or Elko?
Gilligan: Oh, jeez. Totally different. It was different going from Elko to Boise. But now from Boise to Montreal there's a language barrier. It's probably 75 percent French here in Montreal. So everywhere you go there's French signs and people speaking French. If you go to a restaurant or store people do speak English, but the first thing they say to you is in French. If I were to go to McDonald's or something like that all the stuff on the menu board is in French so I need to point at whatever I want.
So that's different, and there's the size of the city. It's like three to four million people, so the city's huge. It's East Coast so it's a different culture. West Coast people are nice and everybody is a little bit more reverent than the people on the East Coast. People on the East Coast keep more to themselves. They seem a lot more rude, but that's just the way it is over here.
Last year I didn't really like it that much. I thought the French were rude. But I think it's just because it was different and not something I was used to. This year I think I've been exposed to a little bit more of the situation and I think the people are great.
EDFP: You've had a chance to play for the Indians, the Broncos and now the Alouettes. Do you have a favorite mascot among those?
Gilligan:I don't know. I've never really thought about it. I've like every mascot I've been associated with. Even in junior high, we were the Cougars. I wasn't like a Pacer or anything like that, you know some word where you don't know what it is. I guess if I had to go favorite, it'd be an Alouette because they pay me to play.
EDFP: That's certainly a good reason. So what exactly is an Aluoette?
Gilligan: It's a bird of prey. I think it's French for Eagle, but it's a totally different bird. I figured we'd be called the pidgeons. There's so many damn pidgeons up here. That drives me crazy. They're like the squirrels in the park - they're not afraid of you. You just walk right by them and they won't fly off because they're expecting food.
EDFP: You spent time in Chicago Bears camp and had a tryout with the New York Giants so you've seen what takes to make it to the highest level of pro football. Do you feel like you've got what it takes to get to that point?
Gilligan: I think so. I've definitely been exposed to some of the things they want as a receiver or as a returner. There's also off-the-field things you need to have to make it in the NFL. Someone like me needs to be perfect. I get hit with the size and somewhat with my speed, so I need to make it up in other areas. What I think I need to do is just have some good years up here, get some good film and send it in.
But if I don't make the NFL some day, it's not really going to hurt my feelings. With being exposed to those NFL experiences, I've had the bad side of them as well. To me being in the NFL isn't really so much of a big dream anymore. I want to make playing professional football a long career. So I'd rather play 10 years in the CFL than one or two in the NFL.
Yeah, it would be nice to make that money and be more nationally exposed, but I'm happy with CFL. It's a great league, it's getting more exposure now and it's also getting more money to its players. So I'm really happy with the CFL. I'm glad I came up here.
EDFP: Throughout your career you've had a chance to shine both as a receiver and a punt returner, do you have a favorite between those positions?
Gilligan: I love playing receiver. It's a lot of what I am, you know, being detailed. There's a lot of things that go through your mind and a lot of things you have to do to be great: being detailed, knowing your opponent, knowing the situation.
I love returning kicks as well. You're back there on an island and everybody's watching you. You get the opportunity to break open the game and make a great play so I love that part of it too.
But I also love playing receiver. You get to do one-on-one matchups with defensive players and make them look silly.
With the forward motion toward the line of scrimmage, that's a huge advantage for the receivers, and especially for me. I've fallen in love with the receiver position up here in the CFL, but I also like being put in the situation where I can run one back to the house and get the crowd on its feet.
EDFP: You mentioned your size. That's always been something you've had to work against, being considered small by football standards. What advice would you guys to younger guys coming up who are undersized, but have big football dreams?
Gilligan: Constantly get better. Everyday you have to go out and prove to people that you can play. People look at your size and say, 'Oh, he can't play,' so you need to go out and do twice as much. Everyday you workout, take it seriously and get better and then play with somewhat of a chip on your shoulder. Not cocky, not dirty or anything like that. But the way you present yourself out there when you're playing against those biggers guys, people know that you belong if you have a certain tempo to your attitude and your play. People notice that. That's one thing that I've done. Once I start getting in the groove I've got a certain bounce to me and I'm ready to play.
Have a good attitude, shut your mouth and play, but play hard - play with that chip on your shoulder. Take it to anybody, anytime.
EDFP: You wore No. 12 last year and now you're back to No. 87, which you wore at Boise State. Is there any significance to that number for you?
Gilligan: They gave me 12 last year when I showed up. It was just a number that they had and I didn't like it. I said, 'That's not me.' I wanted 87 because that's part of me being a receiver and also it's the number I had at Boise and I want to continue using that number. I would like to use the 26 that I had in high school, but that number was already taken, so I'll stick with 87. That number's been good to me over the past five years and I'd like to make a career with that number in the CFL.
EDFP: Thanks for putting up with all our questions. Anything else you want to share with the folks back in Elko?
Gilligan: I guess not, other than 'Hi' and 'Keep on watching the tube.'