Milford’s Gillis only starting to show what he can do

Milford High senior Marquis Gillis (8) has made some big plays for the Buccaneers in his three years as a starter. Delaware State News file photos

MILFORD — Football was never really Marquis Gillis’ sport when he was growing up.

The Milford youngster was always more interested in playing the other game of football — soccer — back then.

“That’s what I grew up playing my whole life,” said Gills. “And I was pretty good with it so I stuck with it.”

But once Gillis started playing football in eighth grade, he quickly realized he was pretty good at that, too.

The Milford High coaching staff has been more than happy to line up Gillis just about anywhere on the field — wide receiver, linebacker, running back, cornerback — over the past three seasons. He even sometimes uses his old soccer skills as a place kicker and punter.

Now a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, the Buccaneers won’t mind if Gillis never leaves the field this fall.

That would also give him plenty of opportunities to be seen by the college recruiters who have taken an interest in him.

The most exciting thing for Milford coach Shaun Strickland is that Gillis seems to be bigger and stronger than ever after working hard in the weight room during the extended off-season.

“He found a way to work out three times a day no matter where he was,” said Strickland. “His grandparents have an old weight set in the garage, he was there. … He’d go down to the beach and run in the sand — just finding ways wherever he could go.

“When he walked in, the first time we got to see them, you could really tell that he put a lot of work in — even when it was really, really hard to do.”

It’s the kind of image Strickland had of Gillis when he first saw the youngster as a freshman. Back then, he looked like a kid who could really grow into a good-sized athlete.

“He had the length,” said Strickland. “We saw the ability where it was like, ‘Man, if he could get in the weight room, he could really put some good weight on that frame.’ He just stood out.”

Despite being so new to the sport, Gillis was still good enough to start as a freshman cornerback on the Bucs’ Division II state finalist squad in 2017. He also got the benefit of learning from former Milford standout David Bowman, who’s now at Delaware State.

Ultimately, cornerback might be the most likely position for Gillis in college.

On the other hand, Gillis is a pretty good high school player at whatever spot the Bucs need him.

Marquis Gillis ran for 917 yards in eight games last fall in his first season playing running back for Milford.

A year ago, he switched from receiver to running back. All he did in his first year carrying the ball was run for 917 yards and eight touchdowns on 110 attempts in only eight games.

He also had 12 catches for 190 yards as he earned second-team all-Henlopen Conference Northern Division honors at fullback.

Gillis’ biggest night came when he ran for 186 yards and three TDs on 19 carries in an upset of Dover.

“He was at receiver,” said Strickland. “But, once he put on the weight, he pretty much came to me and was like, ‘Coach I want to move to running back.’ He just looked really good. It was a natural fit.”

What Strickland likes is that Gillis seems to want to learn more about the game all the time. Learning the details of playing the game was an area where he could really grow.

“It’s just a noticeable difference in his maturity in the questions he’s asking and the things he’s doing,” said Strickland. “He’s watching film, he’s asking ‘Coach, if we get this, I like this formation.’ It’s just things he didn’t do as a junior that he really needs to do to make that next jump.”

“I’m always learning,” said Gillis. “I always want to pick up new techniques and stuff. But I know there’s a lot more stuff for me to learn.”

Strickland hopes Gillis’ next jump after this season is to play college football.

The Bucs’ coach said FCS programs like Villanova, Bucknell and Delaware State are recruiting him, while he’s on the radar of some bigger Division I schools. Gillis has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has solid grades.

Gillis is starting to draw more interest from college recruiters, who like his combination of size and athletic ability.

As a defensive player, Gillis has collected over 90 tackles in his career, including 10 tackles for loss with six interceptions.

With so much of the recruiting process on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, Strickland thought it really helped Gillis to work with Brion Murray, the former Milford standout, in the off-season. Murray is now getting playing time as a cornerback at Virginia Tech.

“He just told me to keep working,” said Gillis. “He said the work you put in is going to come out eventually. … Seeing him helped open my eyes that I could really do it.”

“He puts himself in that same group as David Bowman and Brion Murray, where he wants to leave as one of the best from Milford,” said Strickland. “Last year, I don’t think it (playing in college) was really something he thought was realistic for him.

“But I’m sitting there reading him emails from Penn State, from Virginia Tech and from Syracuse. They obviously see the size and ability. Now you’ve got to put it all together. I think that’s what’s really driven him — to be one of those guys who can go and play at the DI level.”

Gillis just needs the chance to show college recruiters what he can do.

This past spring would have been an important time for the 17-year-old to get seen in college camps. He was considering living with relatives in Georgia this fall if Delaware didn’t have football.

There’s still the chance Gillis might go to a prep school or junior college depending on how this fall plays out.

“We’re not going to be deterred,” said Strickland. “He’s just been focused and staying positive and doing everything he needs to do to stay on track.”

“I’ve been training, just hoping there’s going to be a season,” said Gillis. “Now that I know there’s going to be a season, I get to put all my hard work out on the field and see how it plays out.

“I always like being out there with my guys, having a fun time and doing what you have to do to get the ‘W.’ I like being out there.”