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Mitchell’s dual threat
October 24, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Photo by Frank Marquez/Gering

Citizen Drake and Drew Gilliland, running back and quarterback respectively for Mitchell, near the end of their season, serving as the main pistons for the Tigers’ offense.

Gilliland backfield duo fuels Tigers

The Mitchell Tigers suffered a 33-17 loss to the Ogallala Indians last week. Mitchell’s starting Quarterback Drew Gilliland called them a “tough physical team” a day before the clash. It was the Tigers’ second loss after a 52-21 drubbing at Gothenburg in the second week. After tomorrow’s bye, they’ll meet up with Chase County on Oct. 23 for their final regular season game. Then Mitchell will likely move into the postseason. A lot of the credit will go to Drew and his younger brother Drake.

Friday against the Indians, Drew, a four-year starter at quarterback, was 7-of-22 for 59 yards passing, and carried the ball 15 times for 45 yards and scored a single touchdown, missing his usual average of 10 yards per tote. In a rare performance he was outdone by his younger brother, sophomore running back Drake, who carried the rock 12 times for 81 yards.

The success of the Gilliland brothers has translated into a big part of Mitchell’s winning season. The Tigers currently possess a 5-2 record. Both athletes possess a humble demeanor and remain soft-spoken, their reserved tone less about braggadocio and more about helping each other. “I’d say our mindset has helped us succeed this year,” Drew said, describing the reasons for being so driven, and why the brothers want to improve on last year’s multi-sport performances. “It’s because we had success in track and field. And, it’s my last year playing. It’s my brother’s last year playing with me. So, we have a mindset that we were going to play this way, and play well.”

So far, Drew has a total of 1,146 yards after seven games with 14 rushing TDs, and five more passing. But he may be considered somewhat handicapped if he wants to break the state single-season rushing record with just eight regular season games on Mitchell’s slate. Most of Nebraska’s prep rushing records were set during 10-game seasons.

Mitchell Head Coach Jimmie Rhodes said, “They are not very vocal, not your rah-rah guys. They are more doers and showers. Their work ethic is positive and encouraging by how hard they work, and it carries over to their teammates. They are involved in a lot. They are doing things that other kids aren’t doing.”

The Gillilands also fit nicely in Rhodes’ philosophy of coaching, which turns out be the team’s formula for success. “We have a business-like approach here,” he said. “Each player does his job, and the guy next to him does his job, and we’re plugging along together, moving forward.”

Rhodes, who is also serving his first year as Mitchell’s activity director, will see the Gilliland brothers in other sports, and therefore has been attuned to their development on and off the field. “When I ask questions though, I would like a little more input from them. Sometimes I get one word answers,” Rhodes said. “I’m working on bringing out those other leadership qualities. But when I ask them to do something, they do it, and they do it right away.”

Drew and Drake also wrestle and run track. Drew holds Class B times of 39.13 for the 300 hurdles, and 14.80 for the 110 hurdles. He took second place in both events at the 2015 Nebraska track and field championships. Drew once had designs on breaking his Uncle Todd Gilliland’s 1983 record in the 100-yard dash. To do that, Drew would need to run the distance in less than 10.5 seconds.

Both he and his brother Drake also became state champs in the 4x100 relay last season, helping Mitchell teammates Chris Perez and Abe Hernandez to the foursome’s winning time of 43.25. Drew also wrestles at 126 pounds for the Tigers. In the past three years, he has won medals for fourth, fifth, and sixth place, respectively. His career record so far stands at 110 victories and just 12 defeats, with his final chance at a champion’s medal on the horizon.

The Gilliland brothers reside with their grandparents in Scottsbluff and are heavily influenced and inspired by their grandfather Terry Gilliland, who was an educator in area schools for 46 years. He spent nearly three decades as Mitchell’s athletic director, football and track coach, teaching social studies and P.E., before retiring in 2010, though he still helps out with track.

“Both kids were really interested in athletics at an early age,” said Terry, who coached the Mitchell football team from 1982-2009, explaining the brothers’ interest in sports. “They were just gym rats. They were always running around the football field. Always running around the basketball gym. Then, I coached track, and they were always at track practices. They seemed to really have ability at an early age. So, I just worked with them.”

Helping to develop their skills and guide them, Terry took them to competitions and training events. Initially, Drew took to sprinting. “It looked like he wasn’t doing quite as well. So, we moved him over to hurdles, and he just took off. He’s probably the best hurdler I have ever coached,” he said. “Drake’s not too far behind him.”

Though Terry encouraged the boys to play baseball, they instead opted to lift weights and travel to sports camps over the summer. “It’s been nothing but fun,” he said, curious as to why some coaches quit while saying they want to spend more time with their families. “I spent time with my family because they came to practice and the games. I just loved them being around. They’re maintenance free.”

Rhodes agreed, discovering his first year in juggling duties as activity director is mostly about time management. Not unlike Terry’s experience, he finds himself fortunate to have a family who comes to see him during work hours. “You got to be there early, and work later,” he said. “But you get to surround yourself with good people, good athletes and good examples.”

Those good examples include the Gilliland brothers who grew up in a sports environment filled with family. Drew remembers living in Lincoln until he was about 3 years old. By the time he was in first grade, he spent most of the time on athletic fields, ever present during Mitchell’s football and track seasons. Soon after, Drake followed suit.

“We were around football ever since we were really little,” Drew said. “We grew up knowing the game our whole life through my grandpa because he was the head football coach here. So we grew up watching the game. The very first time I played was flag football in first grade.”

Drake added, “I was probably about the same age when I started. I was the water boy standing on the sidelines. I just wanted to be like those older guys, and just play.”

Over the summer, the Gilliland brothers mulled playing for the Scottsbluff Bearcats but decided before the season began to attend school in Mitchell. “We always went to school here and grew up knowing the place,” Drew said. “I wanted to stay because I knew what was expected of me in Mitchell, as opposed to Scottsbluff.

Despite the banter and friendly competition when they play video games such as Madden NFL, they push each other to become better and help each other on the field. “If I don’t train, I feel average. When I do, I feel better about pushing myself and being at my best,” Drake said.

“I make sure he’s coming to work out,” Drew said. “There are days he doesn’t feel like it, but I’ll make sure he does.”

Drew added: “We don’t really compete. When we’re playing against another team, it’s not to see who can carry the ball more, or who can run for more yards. When the other person’s running the ball, we’re motivating each other. We’re going to throw a block or two for the other guy. Off the field in practice, we compete really hard. It makes us play better together.”

Side by side, Drake stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 165 pounds with broader shoulders, while Drew is 5-foot-9, and a slight 145 pounds. “I was just chubby as a little kid,” Drake said, smiling.

“I guess he got all the weight and I got all the looks,” Drew said.

With respect to physique and unique skills, Drew runs 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a football measuring stick for the short bursts of activity required during the game, while Drake runs a 4.8, relying more on jukes and power to eat up the turf. The elder sibling idolizes the running styles of Johnny Manziel when he played at Texas A&M, and Robert Griffin III when he played at Baylor. Drake prefers the power of Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Ezekial Elliott, because of their power style of running.

The season for both of them has been remarkable. In the week prior to facing Ogallala, the Tigers met up with the Chadron Eagles. “We were up a TD and I asked Coach (Jimmie) Rhodes to put me in on a kickoff that play, and I ran down and forced a fumble,” Drew said. “We picked up the ball and ended up scoring.”

In the game against the Kimball Longhorns, who Drew says are now the team’s biggest rivals these days since the Morrill Lions moved to 8-man football, Drake broke a punt return for 71 yards. Though Drake’s biggest rushes came in a game against Lingle-Fort Laramie where he averaged 12.5 yards a carry with 10 carries for 125 yards. So far, Drake has rushed for 661 yards and three TDs.

“The line opened up some big holes,” he said, about breaking through on trap plays against Lingle-Fort Laramie. Though Drake can play quarterback, he feels better running the ball. “I thought hopefully I’d be in the backfield with (Drew). I don’t really pay attention to all the (runs and yardage). All I know is that coach just likes to give me the ball a lot just so I can get more reps.”

Barely looking ahead to next season, Drake said he won’t play quarterback unless he must. Current sophomore Dylan Schumacher, the backup for Drew this year, will likely move up as starter. Though Drew has stirred some interest among area colleges, he plans to stay nearby, looking at schools either in Nebraska or South Dakota, or it might just be Chadron State, where their oldest sister is in her sophomore year, and remains a staunch Drew and Drake fan despite the distance. “I’m probably going where I get the best offer to play football or run track or both,” Drew said.

Though Drake might miss Drew being around for the support, Terry alluded to how comparisons can play into sibling dynamics, especially when there’s competition among brothers. “It’s probably been a little hard for Drake to follow in Drew’s footsteps,” he said. “But he’ll be having some fun next year.”
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