I took advantage of every opportunity to lift, run and practice. I didn’t stay up until 1:00am working out. But when it was time to lift, I took advantage.
University of Massachusetts
Football Wide Receiver
2007: Walk-on, Red-shirted
2008: Played in 1 game
2009: Played in 6 games
2010: Played in 10 games
2011: Part of regular rotation at wide receiver
Tom Gilson attended Mansfield High School in Mansfield, Massachusetts. He played quarterback and receiver. He helped lead his team to two state championships. Tom was the team captain his senior year. Tom had some schools interested in him when he graduated. UMass asked him to come as a preferred walk-on. Tom felt it was a good fit so he took a chance. In Tom’s words, “things turned out pretty good.”
WillofaChampion: What was one of your greatest challenges as a walk-on?
Tom: Not playing. Coming from high school where I was a captain and four year starter to suddenly not get to play. Having a year of not traveling, just watching on Saturdays, not getting to work with the first or second team offense. That was a challenge.
WillofaChampion: Did you have to spend extra time running, lifting, and practicing to earn the opportunity to play?
Tom: I don’t know if I’d call it, “extra time”. But I definitely had to use my time wisely. I worked smart. I took advantage of every opportunity to lift, run and practice. I didn’t stay up until 1:00am working out. But when it was time to lift, I took advantage. I made sure I did something on off-days; things to try and get better. I came into the season ready.
WillofaChampion: Do you have to be more mentally tough as a walk-on compared to a scholarship player?
Tom: I think you do initially. At first you only get one shot and you’re expected to be ready when that time comes. If you mess up, that’s it. You have to be ready at all times. It is also hard because when you come in, you’re at the bottom and you have to work your way up. You have to be perfect in everything you do. You have to be perfect to get the opportunity, then to keep getting opportunities you have to be perfect. So you do have to be mentally tough.
WillofaChampion: How did your teammates receive you?
Tom: My teammates received me with open arms. I knew a couple of guys coming in which helped. I played against one of roommates in high school. We help each other. We work-out and go over plays in the playbook. We get along great.
WillofaChampion: How did your coaches receive you?
Tom: When I first came we had a lot of receivers and I wasn’t getting a lot of reps. We had guys rotating even with the third team. So it was hard to get a chance to show what I can do. It didn’t seem like the coaches were real concerned. But as I worked and earned more opportunities, I caught their eye.
WillofaChampion: Why do you think you’ve made it when some walk-ons do not?
Tom: I had a lot of help. I got a lot of advice from home. I talked to my high school coach a lot. He played here and was real successful. I talked to him about how to handle not playing, working my way up, and lots of things. He was a great help. I am also a very motivated person. When I start something I don’t quit. I am driven.
WillofaChampion: Besides your coach, who else was there to encourage you through challenging times?
Tom: My mom and uncle talked to me. My friends back home. I talked with them when I went home. They gave me a lot of support. Knowing people were counting on me motivated me. I did not want to not let them down.
WillofaChampion: Two springs ago you were awarded a partial scholarship. This past spring you were put on a full scholarship, what was it like receiving that award?
Tom: Coach Morris pulled me in his office after a spring practice. He told me I had worked hard and played well and would receive some money. Then I got the partial scholarship. This past spring he called me in and slid the paper across his desk to me. I signed it. It was very rewarding. I felt I had achieved something really big.
WillofaChampion: What advice do you have for other student athletes?
Tom: You have to work hard. It will be hard. There were times I wanted to quit. But keep working and be ready when your time comes. You will get your chance, so be ready and make the most of it.
Interview: September 2011