August 23, 2021
Standout running back has averaged more than 100 rushing yards
per game during past two seasons
Note: this is the first of a four-part preseason camp series introducing the 2021 team co-captains.
DAVIS, Calif. -- By both his own description and that of assistant head coach Mark Speckman, junior running back Ulonzo Gilliam, Jr. epitomizes the notion of a "lead by example" team captain. He enters his second season in that role, continuing a recent tradition of multi-year captains. Most important, however, is the standard of excellence Gilliam sets for his teammates, both young arrivals and seasoned veterans alike.
"Lonzi is one of those guys who gets along really well with both the offense and defense," said Speckman, who coaches the Aggie running backs. "He has a lot of friends on both sides and is a 'glue guy' who brings the two sides together. That's why he has been the captain for two years in a row."
In actual competition, Gilliam is on pace to rewrite the UC Davis record book, at least in the rushing categories. He enters the upcoming fall season with 2,534 career yards, 121 receptions for another 767 ticks, and 31 combined touchdowns (25 on the ground, six in the air). Bear in mind, that's after 28 games – only slightly more than two full seasons. Gilliam ranks fourth in school career history in rushing yards, with Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Famer Ronnie Austin next on the list at 2,968. Those 121 catches are the most by a UC Davis running back, while his 2018 and 2019 totals of 57 receptions are also a school record for the position. Gilliam's penchant for paydirt – the 31 TDs plus a two-point conversion – has him 25 points shy of entering the Aggie's career top 10 for scoring.
What does show up on the stat sheet is Gilliam's attitude. When he arrived on campus, he benefited from the leadership of veteran running backs Ryan Martinez and Ethan Hicks, and he cites receiving great Keelan Doss as another pivotal figure in his Aggie upbringing. "They had a mentality of going out to practice and trying to get better every day. They attacked their workouts and tried to get one percent better every day," Gilliam says. "We had a great group of guys that I was able to look up to and to follow in their footsteps. I'm just trying to do that for our younger guys."
While Gilliam considers himself as a leader by example, Speckman also knows his prized pupil is not afraid to use his voice, "both in a positive way and in a way where he has to get after people." In fact, when the fourth-year human development major was sidelined by injury in the final two games last spring, he transformed into a de facto assistant coach. Even on the telecasts, Gilliam's presence was unmistakable. He may have been wearing a team T-shirt instead of his usual number 34 jersey, but his role as captain remained unabated. After all, Gilliam's "athletic intelligence," as Speckman calls it, is not hampered by a walking boot.
In an odd way, the two-game absence has resulted in a 2021 fall season with less fanfare than usual. Gilliam came up one game shy of qualifying for conference and national leaderboards, and he is noticeably and mysteriously absent on some of the preseason honor lists. Remember: he entered the 2020-21 school year as a preseason All-American, then averaged 103 yards per game – which would have been tops in the Big Sky and 11th nationally.
Still, this apparent slight will not diminish Gilliam's abilities on the field, nor his approach to his craft.
"I know that the younger guys are looking up to me and the older guys," he said. "So I get out to practice as early as I can, and set the tone of how we want UC Davis football to hold itself."
UC Davis kicks off its 2021 season at Tulsa on Thursday, September 2.
Posted: July 20, 2021
July 26 portion of Big Sky Kickoff will stream live on ESPN+
FARMINGTON, Utah – The Big Sky Conference and ESPN have announced a new multi-year, multi-platform media rights agreement, adding hundreds of Big Sky live events to ESPN's college sports portfolio. More than 600 Big Sky events in both men's and women's sports will stream on ESPN+ and the ESPN App. ESPNU will televise two football games each year, in addition to one regular season men's basketball game and the championship games for the Big Sky Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments slated for ESPN networks.
UC Davis competes in the Big Sky Conference as a football affiliate member.
"This landmark agreement for the Big Sky and our membership rightfully aligns the nation's preeminent FCS conference with the strongest media brand in sports," Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said. "We are absolutely thrilled to join the ESPN family and deliver an elevated viewing experience with hundreds of Big Sky contests on ESPN+ each year. In addition, the numerous linear opportunities on ESPN networks now available to us is unprecedented among our peers, and yet another way that we will enhance the brand of the Big Sky."
The first event on ESPN networks as part of the new deal is the Big Sky Conference's annual Football Kickoff, which will stream live on ESPN+ on Monday, July 26. Big Sky teams have recently been featured on ESPN networks while competing on the national stage, including Eastern Washington and conference champion Weber State in the FCS Playoffs, and the Northern Arizona men's cross country team claiming its fourth NCAA title in five years, live on ESPNU.
"The Big Sky Conference consistently delivers compelling storylines and high-caliber competition across all 16 of its sports, and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to further highlight the student-athletes and member institutions as we showcase hundreds of matchups each year across our ESPN platforms," said Dan Margulis, ESPN senior director, programming and acquisitions.
The longstanding relationship between the Big Sky Conference and ESPN goes back to ESPN's formative years, when Big Sky football was featured on the network on October 4, 1980, for Northern Arizona's homecoming against Idaho State. Since at least 1989, ESPN has annually televised the championship game of the Big Sky Men's Basketball Tournament.
"Many thanks to our media rights consultant, CSMG, for the deliberate and strategic 18-month-long process on which they led us that resulted in greater exposure and revenue than ever before for our conference," Wistrcill said. "We will continue to be aggressive about providing high-quality and easily accessible broadcasts for all Big Sky fans."
Founded in 1963, the Big Sky Conference is an NCAA Division I conference competing in the Football Championship Subdivision. UC Davis won a share of the Big Sky football title in 2018.