MADISON – How nervous was D.J. Gillins when he first stepped under center in a Wisconsin practice uniform this past spring?
“My first play I forgot the whole play, but I know I threw an interception,” Gillins said. “I was nervous being my first time on a college field playing against a college team.”
What a difference a couple of months made for Gillins.
Although he is not in the mix for the starting job this season, Gillins’ confidence in his approach, his mechanics and his knowledge is far beyond what is was four months ago at the end of spring practices.
“I’m way above the curve,” said Gillins. “If I would have came over the summer, I would still have been a little bit nervous throwing the ball in front of Coach Andersen. Now I am out here dancing around, having fun (and) enjoying being out here rather than not being relaxed.”
In his first college camp, Gillins gave himself a C-plus grade in the team’s 15 spring practices based on the fact that he was walking into an offense he didn’t know and was adjusting to everything being thrown at him at once.
Entering his second week in fall camp, Gillins feels he’s getting it right after approaching summer with the desire to learn more about his team’s offense and improve his fundamentals. Getting a chance to work on drills with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig over the summer, the two worked on footwork agility drills that would produce better throws and mechanics.
“I never really had a quarterback coach, so my footwork wasn’t the best,” said Gillins, who also missed most of his junior season recovering from an ACL tear. “I was in shotgun the majority of my life, so I knew the shotgun footwork, but I didn’t know a lot of under center stuff. I came here unaware and now it’s a lot different. It’s not perfect or the best right now, but it’s getting there. (Coach Ludwig) believes footwork is the best thing for you.”
In addition to the footwork, Ludwig worked with Gillins to hold the ball higher to improve the accuracy on his throws and to build his maturity, trying to develop him from a run-first quarterback into a pass-first quarterback.
“I learned that I have to wait my turn and enjoy the game,” said Gillins. “I have to stay focused, but sometimes you can’t take your job too seriously and have fun.”
Gillins will be the first to acknowledge he is still a work in progress. Coming in at 182 pounds, Gillins tipped the scales at the start of fall camp at 205. If Wisconsin needs him this year, Gillins says he’ll be ready to contribute, but is perfectly fine absorbing knowledge from the sideline.
“If I redshirt this year, I am perfectly fine,” said Gillins. “Coach Andersen and Coach Ludwig know what is best for me and best for me. I trust Coach Andersen, and I love that dude. Whatever he says goes, and I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Whether he plays or not this season for Wisconsin is irrelevant for true freshman D.J. Gillins, as all that matters to him is improving as a quarterback.