by Raynard Churchwell
Wingate University linebacker Elijah Gilmore has earned the honor of being nominated for this year’s Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of Year Award. After having his sophomore season cut short by a serious knee injury, Gilmore was able to return fully healthy for the 2018 season. Gilmore finished the year with 64 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. His play was able to propel Wingate University to the second round of the Division II College Football Tournament.
Gilmore is a former three-year letter winner at Sandy Creek High School. As a senior he was named team captain and led all Patriot defenders in tackles with 65 in 2015. He also registered 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown that season. His play earned him First Team All-Region and All-County honors. He would lead the Patriots to a berth in the 4A GHSA Football State Playoffs, where they lost to Bainbridge High School in the second round.
From the moment he stepped onto Irwin Belk Stadium at Wingate University, Gilmore was able to see the field in every game. In a rotational role, he finished his freshman season with 16 total tackles. He was expected to participate in a larger role during the 2017 season; however, that season ended after he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Although the odds appeared to be stacking up against him when doctors discovered the presence of arthritis in his knee, he kept his hopes alive knowing he was able to receive a medical redshirt.
Wingate head coach Joe Reich and his staff had to adapt to support Gilmore in his comeback.
“We have had some guys that haven’t come back from that type of injury. So, with him (Gilmore) it’s made us as coaches become smarter with him in terms of the practice reps he’s had to take, and he hasn’t really had any issues.”
In the 2018 season, Gilmore bounced back and emerged as a leader for the Bulldogs as a junior. Coach Reich explained that he has big expectations for Gilmore as well as the rest of his team as they get ready to begin training for the upcoming 2019 season.
“My expectation is that Elijah will continue to get better and better, and that he will become a dominant player in 2019,” Reich said. “I can guarantee you if he continues to get better, I would be surprised if he doesn’t win a lot of postseason honors. I expect him to be the leader of the defense and just be the player that we know he can be and then some.”