Mardy Gilyard:The Man Who Overcame

Daniel GorterCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 14: Mardy Gilyard # 1 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs for a touchdown during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals on November 14, 2008 at  Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Sudden shock swept over the dread-locked youth standing eerily still. His heart froze at the disheartening news. The significance of the fact slammed into his icy heart, producing a coat of networked cracks that spread across his numb soul.

His heart shattered.

All that his life was built on seemed to crumble from beneath him. The road he had been travelling was barricaded by his own failures. His ambitions were slayed by the sword of his own undoing.

What now?

University of Cincinnati sophomore Mardy Gilyard didn't know.

He had just received news that his scholarship had been nullified do to his poor grades. But this was simply a punch on the shoulder compared to the knockout blow that he had been evicted from on-campus housing for cheating on an exam.

He had nowhere to go, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Mardy endured a long, grueling four months of life on the streets. His shelter at night: a car borrowed from his fiancee's brother. He worked four different jobs, construction worker, cook, sales representative, and deliveryman, struggling to pay his debts while meeting his most basic needs.

Seventeen-hour days of strenuous work blurred into nights cramped in a car, yearning for change to come and save the day, for a chance to escape this life on the streets.

It was just salt in his wounds when he learned that his grandfather had died.

Mardy was at an all-time low.

But Mardy pulled through it, in large part due to his family and fiancee's support, and his regular praying. In his spare time he would be on the phone with his fiancee, sharing about his difficulties and opening up his heart. She would assure him that he would make it through those tough times.

Cincinnati Bearcats football head coach Brian Kelly was responsible for Mardy's return to the campus, classes, and athletics at the University. He restored Mardy's scholarship, and the young man returned to the football team and life on campus.

Mardy was changed, transformed. Determined to not let himself slip into the immaturity that he had yielded to in the past, he let the kind, caring, compassionate young man that had always been within him flourish.

A self-acknowledged "sucker" for kids, Mardy joined Wesley Chapel Mission Center as a part-time counselor. He mentored, encouraged, and empathized with inner-city youth that endured hardships and struggles. His dedication to service and his faith-fueled care for others was apparent to all who knew and met him.

His return to the gridiron allowed him to thrive as a football player. Two years and 26 games later, Gilyard is now expected to be a top prospect for the 2010 NFL draft, and is considered one of the best wide receivers in college football.

His first year back was nothing to laugh at, as he posted 536 receiving yards and three touchdowns. But he exploded in 2008, hauling in 81 passes for 1,276 yards, including seven 100-yard games, and 11 touchdowns.

He also shined on special teams; accumulating 944 yards off kick returns, including two that he brought to the house.

His talented play allowed the University of Cincinnati to go 11-3 and win the Big East Championship in 2008.

Even through this success, Gilyard's tender heart has shone brilliantly.

Just one example occurred after Gilyard caught a near-touchdown pass. Bolting forward with unstoppable momentum, he avoided a wall and crashed through an entrance to the stands, bulldozing a kid in the process.

Forgetting about his disputed near-touchdown catch; he ripped off his helmet and immediately checked whether the kid was okay. Picking the boy up, Gilyard gave him a long, gentle hug.

Gilyard's story is a story of a man that overcame, a man that overcame life on the streets, but most importantly, a man that overcame his past and its problems.

Whether he’s hauling in touchdown passes on the turf, or counseling troubled kids at a mission center, Mardy Gilyard is a walking and talking story of triumph over adversity.


I would like to cite two articles, Daily Press's "Bearcats receiver turning it around" by Juan Rodriguez and Post-Gazette's "Cincinnati's Gilyard making amends" by Chuck Finder, for providing key, though not exclusive, information for this article.