No longer does Jacob Gilliam have to worry about being unable to share meals with Tennessee's scholarship football players. Even after the redshirt senior and former Farragut High School standout on Tuesday morning initially missed Vols coach Butch Jones' phone call while he helped his parents handle some yardwork.
Now, Tennessee's one-time 250-pound walk-on is a full scholarship member of the Volunteers' 2014 team.
"Coach Jones called me around finals and told me he was working on getting me a scholarship," Gilliam, 6-foot-5 and now nearly 300 pounds, told VolQuest.com. "I missed his call (Tuesday morning). So I called him back and got ahold of him. He told me to get in the weight room, start getting ready and I'd now be a scholarship player at the University of Tennessee.
"I just obviously want to start off saying that I'm real blessed; Jesus gave me a lot of favor in my time at UT. That feeling has come full circle, from starting out at 250 pounds when I got there and having to eat like crazy. Allison (Maurer) putting more and more food in front of me. It was tough not being able to eat with my teammates. Now I can do everything with them. You're more accepted as a scholarship guy. It's nice."
Gilliam said the first thing he did after hanging up with Jones was "yell down" to his father, David; Jones said the phone call was one of the more gratifying aspects of coaching.
"First of all, we are excited to say that Jacob Gilliam will be going on scholarship at the University of Tennessee," Jones told reporters at Tuesday's Big Orange Caravan finale in Johnson City. "Very well deserved and he has earned it. One of the rewards of being a football coach is when you can call him and his family and say that you have worked yourself into a scholarship. That's what our program is all about."
After exiting camp as Tennessee's top left tackle on a revamped offensive line, Gilliam said the news merely reinforced countless hours of work through the years --- and also carried on the example set forth by another former Farragut Admiral.
"I kind of want to kick it back to [former Vols linebacker] Nick Reveiz, my example. I've done what he did," Gilliam said of Reveiz, now coaching at Carson-Newman. "It's real awesome for me to kind of be in that same category. Nick was an amazing player and I aspire to be that great. Hopefully I can be that example for other guys. If you put in hard work and effort, you'll get rewarded."
Gilliam, who said he planned to text Reveiz Tuesday night to share the news, called roommate Tyler Coombes, a walk-on from Wilson Central, and his girlfriend to reveal his scholarship status before "working in mulch and moving some rocks" to help out his parents.
Gilliam's scholarship came on a day when Jones also formally announced that sophomore defensive back Devaun Swafford, a part-time starter last year who scored two non-offensive touchdowns, also had been formally placed on scholarship as expected.
"It's a work ethic. It's everything that goes into it. It's the ability to handle adversity and persevere," Jones said of the traits that enabled the walk-ons to become scholarship team members. "They are very, very consistent in their approach not only in helping us on the football field but also in the classroom. Just as well as deciding who to put on scholarship with their on-the-field performance and what they bring in the locker room to the team, it's just as much their academic performance as well. We will probably have one more individual that we will announce very soon that will be going on scholarship. There's a lot that goes into it. But we want to reward the players in our program that adhere to the standard and expectation in helping us win. Those two individuals have done that. Again that's one of the exciting things about being a coach is to be able to present to them and their family a scholarship because I know they have worked exceptionally hard for it."
Jones, particularly, pointed to the four-year journey of Gilliam arriving at this point.
"I think it speaks volumes. It means everything. He has been through a lot. We have asked a lot of him," Jones said. "Again, he has persevered. He has handled adversity. But he is an individual who came with a work ethic each and every day so we are very excited about him. I think it's a great illustration to our younger players as well."
The fact that Gilliam emphasized nothing about his approach to being a Volunteer would change probably provided the best illustration of how he became a scholarship player.
"Obviously the scholarship is a huge thing in my life, but it's not going to change my work ethic. I'm still going to go put in hard work every day; it's what I've done for four years," said Gilliam, whose brother, Nathan, is a rising senior lineman at Farragut with nearly double-digit scholarship offers. "It's confirmation it's the right thing that I've been doing. But I always try to go as hard as I can every day, and I'm going to keep trying to go as hard as I can every day anyway."
Which sometimes means missing a phone call from his head coach, a call with news for which Gilliam had worked four years to hear.